How to start a free clinic

The need for free clinics continues in Pennsylvania as well as across the nation.  Every free clinic begins with a small group of dedicated people who come together to provide humanitarian services for those in their community who lack access to health care and the ability to pay for it.  Generally,

  • Free Clinics are not required to obtain any special licensing as a clinic in Pennsylvania, such as licensing by the Department of Health;
  • Free Clinics operate similarly to a private practice physician’s office, so physicians must be involved in planning the clinic and the clinic must operate within the purview of a physician’s license;
  • Free Clinics typically do not have licensed pharmacies, but may operate a “dispensary” under the auspices of their Medical Director’s license;
  • All providers of health services must be currently licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and free clinics must verify licensure and should credential all professional volunteers.

If you are interested in starting a free clinic, seeking guidance and support from other free clinics through the Free Clinic Association of PA (FCAP) will help save time and effort.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  You will find that free clinics vary from one location to another as they are all designed to meet the needs and resources of a specific community, so it is helpful to look at several different models.  Contact FCAP for additional information and guidance.  FCAP can arrange for you to visit several member clinics to observe how they operate and learn from their experiences.

The Legal and Operational Guide for Free Medical Clinics authored by the American Health Lawyers Association and funded by the American Medical Association is designed to provide communities and/or individuals with important legal and operational information.  Included in this Guide is information on a variety of legal and operational issues for clinics to consider, such as the scope of services to be provided, funding sources, 501(c)3 tax exemption, recruitment and licensure of medical volunteers, insurance coverage and liability, prescription drug management, patient privacy, quality of care and other patient care issues.

Volunteers in Medicine® is a national organization with a successful track record of developing sustainable free clinics in concert with local community organizing groups.  The VIM model relies primarily on volunteer effort and depends on local leadership, community organization and sound planning to succeed.  VIM clinics provide services free of charge to patients and do not bill third party payers.  Volunteers in Medicine staff will provide assistance and guide your community through each phase of the clinic development process, from the initial feasibility study through the opening of the clinic. Resource materials are available and provided throughout the development process.  Once open, the clinic becomes a member of the VIM Alliance.