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Private Equity: Your New Local Health Care Provider

Posted By Louise Probst, Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Could private equity own your physician’s practice? You may not have noticed, but over the past decade, private equity firms have been making significant investments in physician practices and other health care services. According to PwC’s report, Private Equity: Healthcare’s New Growth Accelerator, provider deals led U.S. private equity investments in 2018 and are shaping up to do so again. The PwC chart to the right provides insight into the growth of these deals.
 


Looking for returns on investment of 2.5:1 to 4:1, private equity firms can find a lot to like in the health care environment, including high margins, service fragmentation, and aging baby boomers with multiple chronic illnesses. To top it off, the recession-proof nature of health care makes these investments less risky compared to others.

So what is in it for physicians? Private physician practices, particularly those that seek to remain independent of a local health system or insurer, find it increasingly difficult to raise capital for new technologies, enter into risk-sharing contracts, negotiate favorable rates with insurers, and otherwise manage the business of their practice. Private equity offers them investment capital and greater advantage in all of these areas, including some hope of remaining clinically independent. Physicians also benefit from a lucrative financial agreement with the potential for sizeable future payouts.

Specialty practices, such as dermatology, orthopedics, gastroenterology, and ophthalmology, have been early private equity targets, especially when combined with the opportunity to own ambulatory surgery, imaging, lab, pathology, or other service centers acting as referral sites for these practices. Corporate and private equity acquisitions are becoming more diverse, including investments in mental health and autism services, new health care technology companies, clinical research organizations, convenient care, and long-term care services.

Those in favor claim that private equity firms bring better and more efficient business practices to an industry with little cost management discipline. Yet, not all physicians think private equity is a good thing for patients or the profession of medicine. Some claim that ownership relationships pressure physicians to provide unneeded care, diminish the patient-physician relationship, and lessen professional autonomy.

An optimist might say that this is a sign that the health care industry is feeling the heat to produce better quality care at more affordable prices. The skeptic might suggest it simply a way to share the wealth with a new set of players. What do you think? Will private equity firms deliver higher value care and a better patient experience?

Warm regards,

 

Louise Probst

BHC Executive Director

 

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