Would it be smart to sell your medical practice now?


The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the bottom lines of many private practices, prompting physician-owners to seriously contemplate selling.

Physician-owners have had to sell at lower prices, reflecting lower cash flow under COVID-19. But sales prices may rebound following news on Nov. 9 that a COVID-19 vaccine candidate produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, may be ready for initial distribution before the end of the year.

“There are a lot of ifs still, but if things go according to expectations, we may see an increase in the value of practices,” said Mark O. Dietrich, a CPA in Framingham, Mass., who deals mostly with valuations of physician practices.

“Practice valuations have been lower because many patients have kept away and cash flow has been reduced,” Mr. Dietrich said. “But once patients feel safe, that barrier would be removed, and cash flow, which sales prices are generally based on, could rise. However, this may take a while. One major hurdle would be getting people to take the vaccine.”

Many doctors have been contemplating closing

The nation is currently undergoing a significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, which could prompt another COVID-19–related downturn in practice volume, as occurred earlier in the year. That downturn forced many private practitioners to contemplate selling their practices.

In a survey released this summer by McKinsey & Company, 53% of independent physicians reported that they were worried about their practices surviving. Although many physicians have now reopened their offices, patient volume is reduced, and physicians are earning far less than before.

“In many cases, physicians who had been considering retirement in the next few years have moved their planning up and want to sell as soon as possible,” said John D. Fanburg, an attorney at Brach Eichler, a law firm in Roseland, N.J., who specializes in medical practice sales and mergers.

“For physicians over age 65, it’s not just worries about finances; it’s also worries about the health risks of staying open,” Mr. Fanburg added.

Mid-career physicians are also selling their practices. Many of them become employees of the hospital, large practice, or private-equity firm that bought the practice – receiving a level of compensation set by the sales agreement.

Will your practice be hard to sell?

With so many physicians ready to sell, are there enough potential buyers to acquire them all? Probably not, said Mr. Dietrich.

“Many hospitals may not need new practices right now,” he said. “In the depths of the pandemic, they furloughed many of their existing doctors and may not have brought all of them back yet.”

In fact, because of the pandemic, some buyers have delayed sales that were already in progress, said Monica H. Kaden, director of business valuations at Sobel Valuations, based in Livingston, N.J.

“Buyers are not only worried about their own cash flow but also about the possibility of lower revenues of the selling practices due to COVID-19,” she said, citing a very large multispecialty group that has put its purchase of a another large multispecialty group on hold.


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