What You Need To Know About Going To The Hospital While Traveling Abroad
Whether you contract an illness or have an accident, here’s how to handle a medical event in a foreign country.
When planning a vacation abroad, the last thing you want to imagine is having to go to the hospital. But it’s important to expect the unexpected and plan for the possibility of an emergency.
“Unfamiliar areas, exotic foods, insect-borne illnesses and adventurous activities can all lead to illness or injury,” E. Patricia Gill, an infectious disease and travel medicine specialist in Longmont, Colorado, told HuffPost. “Accidents happen. Nearly half of all medical evacuations back to the United States are the result of a car crash, and emergency care and trauma centers are uncommon outside urban areas.”
HuffPost asked Gill and other experts how travelers can be proactive before their trip and what they should know about seeking medical attention in a foreign country.
“Being prepared for these types of situations can alleviate some of the stress should travelers, and/or their companions, find themselves needing to go to the hospital,” said Robert Quigley, a surgeon and senior vice president at the medical and travel support companies International SOS and MedAire.
Go To The Doctor Beforehand
“Prevention is always better than treatment,” said Gill, who recommends visiting a travel medicine clinic and discussing your itinerary and health to get personalized advice, immunizations and preventative medicines.
“You may be given medications for early self treatment of diarrhea or medicine for prevention or treatment of altitude illness,” she said. “You can discuss prevention of blood clots, protection against bug bites, safe food choices and many other potential health issues.”
Gill also noted that other countries may have different standards of sanitation and sterility than what we’re accustomed to in the U.S., so it’s important to be immunized, particularly against hepatitis B which is passed by blood and other bodily fluids.
Stock Up On Meds
Your pre-travel doctor visit is a good time to get a refill of your prescriptions and stock up on medication for the trip. Daphne Hendsbee, a communications and marketing specialist at the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), recommends getting extra meds and keeping them in the original, labelled containers.
“Check with the foreign embassy of the country you are visiting or transiting [through] to make sure your medications are permitted in that country,” she advised.
Check Your Insurance
Travelers should investigate if they need travel health or evacuation insurance, as many health insurance plans don’t provide coverage out of the country.
“Make sure that you take copies of your insurance card and insurance company contact information,” said Quigley. “Your insurance company may have additional information for you, including the requirement to purchase excess coverage. This is particularly important if you have an underlying mental health disorder.”
“Depending on your policy, you may have to seek care from the doctors and hospitals in the insurer’s network,” Hendsbee noted. “Make sure you’re covered for any preexisting conditions and find out if they have a preferred provider network.”
Research Your Destination
Quigley recommended researching your destination’s healthcare infrastructure and what medical care is offered in different areas, particularly rural ones. Travelers can also research any endemic diseases, as well as best practices against contracting them.
“Before traveling to any foreign destination, make sure to identify the nearest hospital and learn whether it is in a neighborhood with any security concerns,” he advised, adding that insurance companies and travel assistance providers can share this information. “This not only notifies them in advance, but oftentimes, they are able to offer additional insight into emergency advice and best practices to stay safe.”
It may also be useful to learn about local laws and culture, like basic driving practices.
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