How to distinguish between the place were sick people lying (hospital) and work 24 hours a day, to the place where people go for check-ups or as primary medicine (G.P. / family doctor)? In many countries they are specific buildings (not even close to hospitals) and in Eastern Europe it's called policlinic.

Regarding to the word clinic, as I understand it can be also used for hospitals, but I'm looking for a word that's specific not for hospitals (=where sick people lying). I'm a bit confused.

According to Oxford:

Clinic - An establishment or hospital department where outpatients are given medical treatment or advice, especially of a specialist nature.

It's a bit different from what I can understand by the term "clinical picture" which speaks about patients in hospitals many times. Also, in many countries thes

So a native English speaker who goes to a general check-up, or to have a consultation in outpatient may say: "I'm going to the clinic" while it's understood it isn't for hospital? Or what is the common term that I'm looking for?

  • 3
    The terms differ from a country to country.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 6:57
  • I'd like to know the common terms in the major English speaking countries: BrEn, AmEn, CanEn, AusEn. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 8:10
  • 1
    In the US, its down to over night or not. You could also argue Its whether or not there is a surgical theatre.
    – Patrick
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 8:59
  • In some cases, it might be the same place.
    – Kat
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:55

5 Answers 5


In American English, it's common to refer to such a place as "the doctor's office" or even just "the doctor". Such places may be officially called something like "Offices of Dr. Jones, MD".

The word "clinic" should also be pretty widely understood as different from a hospital. It might have a connotation of being a place that focuses more on one specific type of medicine, but not always.

There are also places called "prompt care" or "urgent care" where people can go with something that can't wait until a regular doctor visit, but isn't serious enough to go to the emergency room at the hospital.


In Britain, a clinic is a place where outpatients go for an ongoing medical condition to be monitored, or to receive regular sessions of treatment. It's usually a specialist department in a hospital.

A GP practice usually calls its building a surgery (not very logical, I know). If it is under the same roof with other healthcare services (such as a pharmacy and/or a clinic that isn't part of a hospital), it could be called a health centre.

From Oxford dictionary:

Surgery- British A place where a doctor, dentist, or other medical practitioner treats or advises patients.

  • 1
    Just to confuse things, in the UK, a 'clinic' could be a session held in a hospital, e.g. Dr Jones is doing an eye clinic today. Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 12:45
  • @MichaelHarvey I mean, i can understand how these words developed the meanings they have now over time, but honestly when compared to US English, UK English can sure be weird XD Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 7:36
  • In answer to your final question, a British person would probably say "I'm going to the doctor's" (a GP appointment) or "I have a hospital appointment" (at an outpatient clinic). Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 9:25
  • @Soorena Aban - "when compared to US English, UK English can sure be weird ". Actually, it's the other way around. Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 9:42
  • As my Norwegian godfather once said "All languages are funny" (meaning 'funny peculiar'). Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 8:48

In AmE (at least in New England, but this could be regional) a clinic typically refers to an outpatient treatment or diagnostic center. Hospitals may contain clinics, but clinics are not hospitals. Doctors may also have private offices that are not associated with hospitals or clinics.

Someone seeking treatment, diagnosis, therapy, or advice might say they are going to a clinic or going to the doctor's office or just going to the doctor. In general, no one would assume you mean hospital when you say clinic.


Though not a native speaker, I'm saying what is in India, largely.

Here, clinics are meant for seeing patients and treating them with prescribing medicines. It is OPD. Some clinics would have 1-5 beds but that is to treat minor elements and the stay is pretty short. Generally, clinics would have general practice (say MBBS) or only one specialization (say M.D. Medicine).

Polyclinic, as the name suggests, would have more doctors specializing in different fields. This may include M.D. Medicine, Pediatricians, and so on. Doctors collectively run such polyclinics. Again, there could be a few beds and the stay could be a bit longer as they have professional assistants to take care of patients.

Hospitals are full-fledged treatment centers equipped with surgical or medical instruments. There are different rooms and many beds. The stay could be shorter or longer. Hospital buildings are larger than clinics/polyclinics. Even further, multiple-speciality hospitals are much larger, 5-star category, and exclusive (and very costly). They have large rooms, radiology, pathology, etc. and super speciality in-house as well as visiting doctors.

In India, there is one more - PHC. Primary Health Center, a government-run clinic. Apart from financial affordability, they are more famous for running programs and general public awareness.


In Australian English, our terms are basically the same as in British English, but most American terms would be recognised and used by many as well. (I've never heard "prompt/urgent care" used here, though. You have "after-hours GPs", or just go to the hospital.)

So you can call it a "doctor's surgery", "surgery", or just "the doctor" (or "GP").

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