clinic, name for an institution providing medical diagnosis and treatment for ambulatory patients. The forerunner of the modern clinic was the dispensary, which dispensed free drugs and served only those who could not afford to pay a fee. Dispensaries began to appear in London toward the end of the 17th cent. In the United States the first dispensary was founded in Philadelphia in 1786 through the efforts of Benjamin Rush. Another was established in New York City in 1791, and one in Boston in 1796. Home care was often provided by the early clinics, but later they evolved as places for treatment of those who could visit them. As the clinic movement grew and concern for public health increased, facilities for providing diagnosis and treatment improved. Present-day clinics are maintained by private and city hospitals, by city health departments, by industrial and labor organizations, and by groups of private physicians. Some clinics specialize in vaccination and other measures to prevent infectious disease. Some are established to promote the health of babies and mothers. Others exist to facilitate the diagnosis of tuberculosis or cancer so that these diseases may be treated as early as possible. There are also clinics concerned with mental health. Clinics designated as health centers offer all the health services that are considered essential. They provide free, comprehensive service for people who cannot afford private care. In some areas mobile units travel from place to place providing various kinds of medical and dental care. Clinics maintained by industrial and labor organizations are often free for members, but others charge a nominal fee; in hospital clinics the fee is usually based on the individual's ability to pay.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.