Academic medical centers (i.e., teaching hospitals) and academic medical practices are under pressure to control costs to compete with for-profit health care institutions. The authors explain how academic physician managers who want to control costs wisely must first understand the cost structure of the medical center or practice and compare that structure with those of for- profit institutions. Doing this requires a firm understanding of how to use a valuable tool, financial statement analysis, to assess an institution's health and performance. Such analysis consists of calculating a variety of financial ratios (e.g., operating income/revenues; net income/total assets) and then comparing them with the corresponding ratios that are considered industry norms. Three types of financial statements (defined in detail) lend themselves to this approach: the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows. The authors define standard financial ratios, point out their uses and limitations, and emphasize that a ratio's meaning derives from comparing it with the corresponding benchmark ratio in the industry as a whole. Ratios should be used not as the end point of assessing financial status, but as ways to identify possible problems that require further investigation. Analysis of trends of ratios over time within an institution is a complementary approach. The authors then discuss the use of ratios in three standard types of institutional evaluation: of performance, of liquidity and leverage, and of strategic planning. In addition, they present the financial statement of a fictitious academic medical center as an example of how to use ratios for financial statement analysis. The authors emphasize that the key to using the ratios they discuss and hundreds of others is first to decide what question needs answering and then to choose the relevant ratios to provide a basis for finding the answer.
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