Facing a medical emergency while you’re away from home is not something most people plan for, but it should be. With some advance planning, you can be better prepared to find the care you need if you experience an illness or injury when you’re traveling inside or outside the U.S. Be sure to take these steps before you set out for your destination.
- Identify at least one hospital, urgent care facility, and physician at your destination. Before you go, locate medical care facilities that provide quality care near your destination. You can check with your insurance plan, which may provide lists of in-network providers and ratings of their care, ask your physician at home if he or she can recommend medical facilities at your destination, or talk with a health advisor, who can connect you with experienced physicians and healthcare facilities in the U.S. and overseas. If you’re living with a chronic health condition, it’s especially important to know how to find a specialist quickly if you experience a medical emergency.
- Know what the potential health risks are and start preparing for your trip early. If you’re traveling overseas, you can find out about disease outbreaks and safety risks at your destination by checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and the U.S. Department of State site. See your physician or a travel medicine specialist at least six weeks before your departure date so that you can get any needed immunizations. It’s also wise to have a check-up to see if you have any previously undiagnosed health issues that may require treatment and to make sure any current health issues are well controlled.
- Create a medical information portfolio. One of the biggest risks if you have a medical emergency while traveling is receiving inappropriate care or being misdiagnosed because the physicians treating you do not have access to your complete medical record. Your medical information portfolio should include:
- the name and contact information for your primary care physician and any specialists who are currently treating you
- a list of medical conditions you’re being treated for
- medications you take and the dosages
- information about treatment you’ve undergone for any serious illnesses, such as cancer or a heart attack
- any surgeries you’ve had
- your immunization record
It should also include contact information for your emergency contacts. There are a number of ICE (In Case of Emergency) apps for your smartphone where you can store your medical records and contact information so it can be quickly accessed by emergency personnel and physicians in a medical emergency. A universal electronic medical record is another option to consider. This secure online record gives any physician who treats you instant access to your complete medical record.
- Find out what your health insurance does and does not cover. Contact your health insurer and find out what coverage you have while traveling. Some plans have very limited or no coverage outside your plan’s network and many do not include coverage outside the U.S. You may want to consider purchasing travel medical insurance and medical evacuation coverage. If you’re traveling overseas and have a medical emergency, in most cases you’ll need to pay for your care upfront. In addition, if you are seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to a hospital that has the resources to provide the care you need or back to the U.S. to receive care.
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The paper also includes information about the top five health risks you may face and what steps you can take to lower your risk.