4 Things to Know About Free Health Care Clinics
Costs May Vary
Many free clinics are not free for everyone. Instead, they often operate on an income-based sliding scale. Some may also provide certain services, such as child vaccinations, for free while charging for others. It is a good idea to visit the clinic's website or call ahead to ask for details.
Because so many services are income-based, you may be required to bring proof of income. This sometimes takes the form of pay stubs, but some clinics may simply require you to sign an affidavit. Bring any necessary documentation or you may be turned away.
You May Not See a Doctor
Many free clinics have a physician on staff, but the bulk of the work is often done by other trained medical personnel. This includes nurses and physician's assistants, who are often able to prescribe most medications and do basic exams and diagnostics. These clinics help keep their operating costs low by using these lower-paid, but still qualified, workers.
However, this does not translate to a lower quality of care for you. In fact, sometimes it can provide better care because the clinic is not as busy. The staff has adequate training and skills to handle the majority of patient problems and knows where to refer you if it cannot.
Not All Clinics Provide All Services
The services a clinic can provide vary widely depending on its staff, equipment and funding. Many clinics operate on grants and rely on volunteers, so they are often only able to provide care for minor illnesses or injuries. However, a free clinic can still be a valuable place to get flu medication or have an ankle sprain diagnosed and treated. The clinic is also good at referring patients to the emergency room or appropriate clinics for follow-up care if it cannot provide the best treatment.
Keep Your Doctor
Free clinics provide a valuable service, but they are not a replacement for a doctor with whom you have an established, long-term relationship. Primary care doctors are important because they can look at your entire history and catch symptoms that doctors who only see you once may not notice. If you cannot afford a primary care doctor, talk to the clinic doctors about resources available to you. Many clinics help their patients file for Medicaid or other low-cost health insurance.
Although the expansion of federal programs such as Medicaid has helped more people get insurance than ever before, many people still struggle to pay for health care. If you are considering finding a free clinic to meet your medical needs, prepare in advance to ensure you have the best experience possible.
Free clinics are an important resource for low-income people, but it is necessary to understand them before taking advantage of their services. Call ahead and do your research to know what to expect. Make sure the clinic provides the services you need, and try not to let it replace your primary care doctor.