Establishing Your Medical Practice’s Fair Market Value

Part One of Medical Practice Valuation

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By Dr. David Edward Marcinko, MBA, CMP

In recent years, the physician practice market has experienced a noticeable increase in practice merging and acquisitions. Medicalpractices are being acquired by health systems in anticipation of Accountable Care Organization (ACO) delivery models.

For physicians, the decision to buy, sell, or merge a medical practice is more complicated than ever, and determining a medical practice’s worth is crucial to this process. Over the next two months, we’ll review the why, when, and how of the contemporary medical practice valuation.

Value Isn’t an Absolute Number

A medical practice’s tangible and intangible assets can be grouped into two broad categories:

  • Physical assets: Examples are real estate, medical records, leaseholds, medical equipment and furnishings, and accounts receivable (A/R).
  • Non-physical assets: These include goodwill, restrictive covenants, buy/sell agreements, managed care contracts, and an assembled workforce.

Estimates of value differ markedly, depending on the purpose of the appraisal, the acumen of the appraiser, etc. To help determine the value, some important questions to consider are:

  • What is the value of the practice for purchase or sale?
  • What is the value of a practice for merger?
  • What is the value of practice assets for joint venture with a corporate partner?
  • What is the value to establish buy-in or buy-out arrangements for partners?
  • What is the value of practice assets for purchase or sale, apart from ongoing operations?

To answer these questions, physicians (buyers and sellers) must understand how practices are valuated—beginning with the following informal, and then more formal, definitions:

Informal Terms of Valuation

  • The “asking price” is often arbitrary and difficult to substantiate, and typically is reduced 25-50 percent after negotiations.
  • The “creative price” is derived by way of creative financing. For example, the practice may provide the down payment.
  • The “emotional price” may involve either a motivated buyer or seller, who pays an under- or overinflated price for the practice.
  • The “friendly price” is reserved for associates, partners, or other colleagues.
  • The “realistic price” is one that both buyer and seller believe is fair.

Formal Terms of Valuation

  • Most appraisers use “fair market value” (FMV) as the standard to derive a reasonable value for a practice. FMV means an arm’s length transaction between an unpressured, informed buyer and an unpressured, informed seller.
  • The “business enterprise value” of a practice equals a combination of all assets (tangible and intangible), and the working capital, of a continuing business.
  • The value of “owner’s equity” equals the combined values of all practice assets (tangible and intangible), less all practice liabilities (booked and contingent).
  • The “working capital value” equals the excess of current assets (cash, A/R, supplies, inventory, prepaid expenses, etc.) over current liabilities (accounts payable, accrued liabilities, etc.).

Realizing that there is no absolute sales price is the essence of FMV. When determining valuation, look for a price range with a reasonable floor and ceiling.

Understand The Lingo

If you are a practice buyer or seller, make sure you understand terms and appraisal definitions.

That’s a lesson George Farmer, a primary care physician inFlorida, learned the hard way. He asked his accountant to appraise his business. When he was ready to sell, his attorney (who also happens to be his brother-in-law) drew up the sales contract. Farmer was pleased that the practice sold quickly for its full asking price.

What he didn’t know (but would discover) is that accounting or “book” value—the figure his accountant gave him—is far different than the FMV that he could have received.

Was the CPA wrong? Not really. Was the doctor incorrect? No. But each was operating under a different set of terms and definitions, without knowledge of each other’s perspectives.

How to Begin Valuation

The following steps should occur before the practice appraisal process begins:

  • Retain an appraiser (for each side) who understands the changing health care industry.
  • Aggregate historic practice business information and consolidated financial statements, operating statistics, payer mix, CPT® utilization, acuity rates, etc.
  • Eliminate one-time, non-recurring expenses, adjusted or normalized for excessive or below normal expenses.
  • Understand key assumptions used in financial projections.

To determine value, appraisers should follow the American Society of Appraisers’ Principles of Appraisal Practice and Code of Ethics. The IRS issued guidelines in 1995 further suggesting that appraisers use the general methods of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices (USPAP), which recognize three approaches to medical practice valuation.

1. Income Methods

There are two methods to value a practice by income:

(a) Capitalization Method: The excess earnings or capitalization method estimates value by dividing normalized historical or current income by an appropriate rate of return for the buyer. This method does not require assumptions.

(b) Discounted Method: Discounted Cash Flow (DCF): Analysis requires assumptions to estimate practice value by discounting future net cash flows to their present worth based on market rates of return required by an investor. Understanding the key assumptions produces a meaningful estimate of practice value. These assumptions may include:

  • projections of future practice revenue, productivity, reimbursement trends, and shifts in payer mix
  • projections of practice cost structures and projected physician compensation
  • after-tax practice cash flows
  • reinvestments to replace equipment or other assets
  • residual practice value at the end of the forecast period
  • discount rate based on the practice specific weighted average cost of capital
  • practice efficiencies, operations, and competitive market conditions

The DCF analysis consistently produces higher values than other methods of estimating practice value because there may be supportable reasons to forecast improvements in future practice performance.

2. Marketplace Multiples

Market transaction multiples are ratios developed by correlating actual practice sale prices to key practice performance measurements. Common multiples include comparisons of sale price to revenue, sale price to earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT), sale price to earnings before interest, taxes, and depreciation allowance (EBITDA), gross revenue, net revenue, and the sale price to number of physicians.

Market transaction multiples are typically limited to serving as a benchmark for testing the reasonableness of the other approaches. They are becoming less common and less useful.

3. Cost Approach

The cost approach calls for identification and separate valuation of all the practice assets, including goodwill, depreciated over 15 years.

The cost approach is more labor intensive than using the enterprise analysis to estimate practice value; especially for a new practice, which typically includes the expenses to acquire space, office furnishings, equipment, marketing, advertising, staff development, and losses incurred during the startup period. This estimate of “replacement cost or cost avoidance” value represents an upper limit (or ceiling) of value, and generally is not considered useful in estimating the value of an established medical practice.

Net Income Statement Adjustments

When analyzing a set of financial statements to determine practice value, adjustments (normalizations) generally are needed to produce a clearer picture of likely future income and distributable cash flow. It also allows more of an “apples to apples” line item comparison. This normalization process usually consists of making three main adjustments to a medical practice’s net income (profit and loss) statement.

1. Non-Recurring Items: Estimates of future distributable cash flow should exclude non-recurring items. Proceeds from the settlement of litigation, one-time gains/losses from the selling of assets or equipment, and large write-offs that are not expected to reoccur, each represent potential nonrecurring items. The impact of nonrecurring events should be removed from the practice’s financial statements to produce a clearer picture of likely future income and cash flow.

2. Perquisites: The buyer of a medical practice may plan to spend more or less than the current doctor-owner for physician executive compensation, travel and entertainment expenses, and other perquisites of current management. When determining future distributable cash flow, income adjustments to the current level of expenditures should be made for these items.

3. Non-cash Expenses: Depreciation expense, amortization expense, and bad debt expense are all non-cash items which impact reported profitability. When determining distributable cash flow, you must analyze the link between non-cash expenses and expected cash expenditures.

The annual depreciation expense is a proxy for likely capital expenditures over time. When capital expenditures and depreciation are not similar over time, an adjustment to expected cash flow is necessary.

Some practices reduce income through the use of bad debt expense rather than direct write-offs. Bad debt expense is a non-cash expense that represents an estimate of the dollar volume of write-offs that are likely to occur during a year. If bad debt expense is understated, practice profitability will be overstated.

Balance Sheet Adjustments

Adjustments also can be made to a practice’s balance sheet to remove non-operating assets and liabilities, and to restate asset and liability value at market rates (rather than cost rates).

Assets and liabilities that are unrelated to the core practice being valued should be added to or subtracted from the value, depending on whether they are acquired by the buyer. Examples include the asset value less outstanding debt of a vacant parcel of land, and marketable securities that are not needed to operate the practice. Other non-operating assets, such as the cash surrender value of officer life insurance, generally are liquidated by the seller and are not part of the business transaction.


With a basic understanding of practice valuation and the steps involved, buyers and sellers will be better prepared for next steps. So, next time in Part 2, we will discuss the art of the deal, and how to structure the practice sale.


Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact:



Cimasi, Robert James: Valuation of Hospital in a Changing Reimbursement and Regulatory Environment. In,Marcinko,DE(Editor): Healthcare Organizations (Financial Management Strategies). Institute of Medical Business Advisors Inc.,Atlanta,Ga., 2011

Marcinko,DE: “Getting it Right,” How Much is a Plastic Surgery Practice Really worth? Plastic Surgery Products, August 2006.

Marcinko,DEand Hetico, HR: The Business of Medical Practice (third edition). Springer Publishing,New York,N.Y., 2011.

Marcinko,DEand Hetico; HR: Risk Management and Insurance Planning for Physicians and Advisors, Jones andBartlettPublishers,Sudbury,Mass., 2007.

Marcinko,DEand Hetico; HR: Financial Planning for Physicians and Advisors, Jones andBartlettPublishers,Sudbury,Mass., 2007.

Marcinko,DEand Hetico, HR: Dictionary of Health Insurance and Managed Care, Springer Publishing,New York,N.Y., 2007.

Marcinko,DEand Hetico, HR: Dictionary of Health Economics and Finance, Springer Publishing,New York,N.Y., 2007.

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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™


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By Staff Reporters



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