What to do if you get sick on vacation

June 25, 2019 in Travel Health  •  By Miles Varn, MD
travel health

Summer is prime time for travel, whether it’s a trip to the beach, a week in the mountains, or a tour of Europe. You’ve taken the time to figure out where you want to go, where you’re staying, and where the best places to eat are, so you’re all ready for your trip, right? Not quite. There’s one important part of planning vacation travel that many people forget—knowing what to do and how to get care if you or a loved one gets sick or injured while you’re away from home.

This checklist can help you prepare to deal with an unexpected illness or injury while you’re on vacation, whether you’re a few hours from home or thousands of miles away.

  • Review your insurance coverage before you leave home. Find out what coverage, if any, you have outside your health insurance’s provider network. Most plans cover care for what they define as an emergency, but you or your family member’s condition might not meet that definition, meaning you could be left with a large bill for uncovered care. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., contact your insurer and ask if you have any coverage overseas. If not, consider purchasing travel health insurance.
  • Research providers at your destination. If you’re living with a chronic health issue like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or COPD, or if you’ve recently had surgery or undergone cancer treatment, it’s wise to have contact information for a healthcare provider you can turn to if you get ill, your condition gets worse, or you experience a complication while you’re away from home. You can check with your health insurance provider or travel insurance provider or work with a health advisor who can connect you with experienced physicians around the world.
  • Know where to seek care. When you’re sick or injured and away from home, your first instinct might be to seek care at the local emergency room. While the ER is the best place for serious concerns, for more minor concerns, consider your other options:
    • An urgent care center for conditions you’d usually make a doctor’s appointment for
    • A walk-in or retail clinic
    • Telemedicine or virtual physician visits
    • A house call physician that the hotel concierge can arrange
    • A physician or facility recommended by your travel insurance provider
  • Carry extra prescriptions. If you regularly take prescription medication, ask your doctor for a detailed list of your medications, what they were prescribed for, and extra prescriptions in case your medications get lost or stolen. To lower the risk of losing your medication while traveling by plane, keep them in your carry on rather than your checked luggage.
  • Make sure your medical records are easily accessible. It’s important that any healthcare provider who treats you has access to your complete, up-to-date medical record. That’s especially true if you’re seriously ill or injured and can’t share your medical history. There are a number of apps that you can use to take your records with you. Another option is an electronic curated medical record created, reviewed for accuracy, and updated by a health advisor. The record can be securely and instantly shared with healthcare providers anywhere in the world, ensuring you get the most appropriate care and lowering your risk for misdiagnosis and medical errors.