Five things to know when starting a free or charitable clinic

By Josh Roberts

If you’re thinking about leaving traditional private medical practice and starting a nonprofit, one of the major decisions is whether to open a free or charitable clinic. ECHO has helped open more than 90 clinics in our history and about half of our partners have chosen free clinics and the other half has chosen charitable clinics. 

Understanding the differences, and comparative strengths and weaknesses, between the two can help guide your decision

Here are 5 things to know when starting a free clinic:

  • Free clinics have the easiest administrative requirement because there is no need to track billing or receipts for patient charges, there are no accounts receivable
  • The Federal Tort Claims Act addresses malpractice coverage for free clinics. Charitable clinics must purchase malpractice insurance, which can negate any revenue raised by patient fees
  • Patients can still donate, it just technically has to be for the next person’s care
  • Funders can easily understand the model and you don’t have to explain how revenue is generated by patients
  • It can be easier to get volunteers for a free clinic

And another 5 things to know when starting a charitable clinic:

Both models require good community fundraising skills. Whether you believe money should never prevent access to care, or that patients paying something and having some skin in the game helps keep them engaged, patient fees or pay-it-forward donations will never cover the costs of running your clinic. 

If you’re thinking about opening a free clinic or opening a charitable clinic, let me know. You can email me and set up a time to talk about it, or fill out one of our interest forms.