Getting help while traveling abroad

Even when you’re fully prepared for your trip, traveling with children is more likely to bring along something unexpected.  And when you’re far from the comforts of home, it is difficult to know what to do or where to go for help when you or your child is ill.  Here are some tips that may help:

  • Strongly consider purchasing travel health insurance and medical evacuation insurance.  Before your trip, check with your health insurance provider to see if they will cover medical costs while abroad.   Before my trip to Asia, I purchased travel health insurance and medical evacuation insurance for our family. As a travel medicine physician, I’ve heard too many stories from colleagues of an ill person who had to fly to another country to obtain proper health care. One example was a child who was bitten by a monkey in Bali and had to be flown to Singapore to receive the proper anti-rabies treatment. The costs of a medical evacuation are astronomical (upwards of $100,000) and having an insurance policy that covers these unexpected situations is definitely something worth considering.  You can find out more about travel insurance providers on the US Department of State website on travel health insurance plans.
  • Know how to contact your doctor at home for help while abroad.   When you’re traveling internationally and across different time zones, one of the most convenient ways to ask your doctor a question is to use your health care provider’s patient portal.  Our pediatric practice group, Allegro Pediatrics, now has a patient portal that allows parents to ask their child’s care team a question and receive an answer online.  So if, for example, your child gets a very itchy rash while traveling and you’re not sure which over-the-counter cream to use,  you could login to the patient portal and ask your provider this question.   You will receive an answer within 1 business day.  Being able to message your care team over the internet is far more convenient than having to call, especially across different time zones.  Keep in mind that when it is 1:30 pm in India, it is 12:00 AM in Seattle.  No one likes getting woken up in the middle of the night for a non-urgent question.
  • Look up health care providers and facilities at your destination before your trip.  This is important especially if you or your child have a chronic health condition.  There are many trusted resources that list health care providers and facilities around the world.    If you purchased travel health insurance, you may need to call your insurance company’s 24 hour emergency hotline and they will inform you of the appropriate facility to go to.  The International Society of Travel Medicine has a directory of travel medicine physicians worldwide.  The Joint Commission International (JCI) has a list of medical facilities that meet a standard level of quality.  In case of an emergency, the US Department of State can help travelers locate medical services and notify loved ones of an emergency.  Before your trip, you can also enroll in the state department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and they will send you travel warnings about your destination and be better able to assist you in case of an emergency.
  • Be wary of counterfeit medications. Bring with you all the medications you think you will need for your trip, whether it be over-the-counter or prescriptions.  Pack it in your carry-on luggage!  When traveling abroad, be wary of counterfeit medications, including antibiotics and anti-malarial medications.  According to the CDC, “an estimated 10%–30% of medicines sold in developing countries are counterfeit.”  Not only can medications purchased in pharmacies overseas be fake but they can also be dangerous.
  • Don’t travel if you or your child is sick. This is another good reason to buy travel insurance before your trip.
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One thought on “Getting help while traveling abroad

  1. Hello Dr Wen, I write for a parenting magazine. Your blog posts are very informative and interesting. I am currently working on an article on a similar topic and would like to quote you in my article. How can I get in touch with you via email please? Thank you!

    Like

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