By: Anthony Copple, JD
Reviewing an opportunity to purchase a practice outright or to buy into a practice as a partner can be an overwhelming task. You may have been presented with a mountain of data about the subject practice: tax returns, profit and loss statements, and operational reports. What does it all mean? What should you focus on? What data is important in determining a fair value for the practice?
Well…the long answer is that all of the data and information surrounding a practice is important in determining its value. After all, an orthodontic practice is a unique asset and no two are exactly alike. However, there are a few things you can focus on that will provide a reasonable snapshot of any practice. Three of the most consequential are explained further below:
Practice Overhead Rate
The overhead rate of a practice is one of the most important factors in determining a practice’s value and the benefits that practice will provide to a buyer. After all, the overhead rate ultimately determines the amount of cash the owner can reap from the business. Generally, the lower the overhead rate, the more valuable the practice. So, a practice at 55% overhead will be more valuable than a practice at 65% overhead, all else being equal. The average practice overhead rate for an orthodontic practice is 58% of collections. If operating expenses are below this level, it can drive the price of a practice up while expenses above this threshold will generally have the opposite effect.
Production acts as a bellwether for practice collections; it tells us where we’re headed. If the practice produces $1,500,000 this year, we can expect that the practice will collect something close to $1,500,000 next year. Knowing this, we can use practice production, practice collections and their relationship to one another to identify trends within the practice. If practice collections have grown over the past two years and production in each particular year exceeds our collections in the same year, we can be fairly confident that the practice will see continued collections growth in the following year. This can be vital to practice value because a growing practice has more potential, and less risk, than a declining practice.
Practice Contracts Receivable
The contracts receivable balance is the total amount remaining to be billed to the active patients of a practice. This can be distinguished from accounts receivable because accounts receivable have already been billed to the patient and are currently due. The contracts receivable balance gives us an indication of the stability of the expected future cash flow of the practice and an idea of the number of active patients that are paid-in-full. We know that we can expect cash flow from the contracts receivable balance as we treat current patients of the practice regardless of the number of new starts we have. On average, a practice’s contracts receivable balance is approximately 50% of prior year production. Below that level, and the practice likely has more paid-in-full patients than the average orthodontic practice. This would add risk for a buyer expected to continue to treat those paid-in-full patients after the closing without collecting patient fees. This additional risk tends to drive the practice price down. Of course, if the contracts receivable balance is above this threshold, it can add value to the practice.
As I said above, there are dozens of factors that go into determining the value of a practice. No one point of data will tell you everything you need to know about a practice. However, analysis of the three metrics above should give you a pretty solid idea of the type of practice you are looking at and whether it is worth pursuing further.