Travel health: How to find quality care abroad
When people who travel around the world for work were polled about their top travel health concerns, 35% of those surveyed said the most serious health threat facing travelers is not being able to access quality care if you fall ill or get injured. Taking steps to prepare for a health emergency while traveling abroad before you set off for your destination can help you avoid this risk.
Step 1: Pre-trip preparations
When planning your trip, you should find out if there are active disease outbreaks at your destination. Currently there are ongoing outbreaks of a number of different diseases, including:
- Zika virus in the Caribbean (including Cuba), Central and South America, Mexico, South Pacific (including Fiji), Asia (including popular destinations Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam), and Africa
- Measles in Europe, including Greece, Italy, England, France, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, as well as in Indonesia and the Philippines
- MERS in the Arabian Peninsula
- Polio in some countries in Africa and in Syria
- Malaria and listeriosis in South Africa
- A large yellow fever outbreak in Brazil
For a complete list of countries facing disease outbreaks, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) website. The CDC also has destination-specific pages that outline potential health concerns in 246 countries.
At least six weeks before you plan to travel, see your doctor or a travel medicine specialist to get any immunizations or boosters you need. This visit is also a good opportunity to talk with your doctor about any special health precautions you should take based on your personal health history and any chronic conditions you’re living with, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, back or joint pain, or immune system conditions like multiple sclerosis and lupus. If you’ve recently undergone cancer treatment or had surgery, find out if this increases your risk for health problems while traveling.
It’s also important to make sure you have enough of any prescription medicines you take regularly and ask for a prescription you can take with you in case you lose your medication, run out, or need to prove to customs agents that the medication was prescribed for you. Ask your doctor if any of your medications are not allowed in the countries you’ll be traveling to and if there are approved, alternative medications you can take instead for the duration of the trip.
Step 2: Make sure you have access to your medical records when you need them
If you fall ill or are seriously injured while traveling, it’s essential that any physician who treats you can easily and quickly get access to your complete medical record. That record should include information about:
- surgeries you’ve undergone
- chronic conditions you’re being treated for
- serious diagnoses like cancer, heart attack, or stroke
- the results of diagnostic and imaging tests
- a list of any medications you take
- contact information for your physicians in the U.S.
You can find several online services and apps that allow you to upload your medical records. Another option is to work with a health advisor who can make sure your records are carefully reviewed to ensure accuracy and stored in a secure universal medical record that can be accessed in minutes by your treating physician anywhere in the world.
Step 3: Learn how to find qualified physicians overseas
There are a number of strategies that can help you find a doctor if you need one while you’re traveling overseas:
- Some large academic medical centers work with an international network of hospitals. Contact one of these centers of excellence and ask for a recommendation before you leave on your trip.
- If you need medical care while you’re already outside the U.S., the State Department or local U.S. consulate can help you locate medical services.
- Ask the concierge at your hotel for recommendations for physicians who speak English, though this does not guarantee quality care.
- If you have travel medical insurance, your insurance provider can connect you with healthcare providers overseas in an emergency.
- A health advisor can provide you with access to experienced physicians trained in Western medical care who speak English, or if an English-speaking physician is not available, an advisor can arrange for a translator to be present when you receive care.
Taking a proactive approach to travel health and planning can help ensure you have access to quality care when you need it most.