A rural health clinic (RHC), or rural health center, is an outpatient care facility that provides primary care and routine laboratory services to rural and, often underserved communities. To qualify as a federally certified RHC, the clinic must be in a “non-urbanized” area categorized as federally designated health professional shortage area.
Rural health clinics were established in 1977 when Congress passed the Rural Health Clinic Services Act. This legislation sought to provide underserved rural communities with greater healthcare access by increasing the number of practicing physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners in these areas.
These facilities can be classified as either independent or provider-based clinics. Independent (or freestanding) rural health clinics are physician-owned facilities. Provider-based rural health clinics are operated as part of a hospital, home health agency, or other healthcare facility.