Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Health Check: Travelling Abroad

No one likes getting sick.  Even the slightest head cold can make some people feel miserable and cause the people around them to run and hide so that they do not become the outlet for that misery.  And going to the doctors is even worse.  Now on top of being sick, you get to sit in a waiting room for two hours surrounded by sick people only to get poked and prodded and sent home with a prescription for some medication that may or may not actually cure what ails you.  Personally, I’d rather just stay home in bed and wait it out than go to the doctor.

Yet imagine for a minute that crawling into your own bed and having your mom bring you chicken noodle soup was not an option.  Going to your family doctor is also not an option because you are not only just sick, you are sick while travelling abroad and are therefore half a world away from your doctor, mom and bed.

Seeking healthcare while travelling abroad can be a haphazard experience if you are not prepared.  Depending on where you are in the world, the standard of healthcare might differ, there may be language barriers between you and your doctor, there might be questions of whether your health insurance will cover medical expenses incurred abroad and if they don’t, how will you pay for your trip to the clinic and any medication needed.  Of course, the key phrase here is, “if you are not prepared”.  There are many things that the intrepid explorer can do to ensure that if their health does take a turn for the worse, they know where to go, who to turn to and how they are going to cover the costs.

First, know where the local hospitals and clinics are located.  Your consulate would be a good resource to ask in this case.  They should be one of your primary resources if you do get sick as they know the area and they know which medical centres have a good reputation and track record for dealing with travellers.  They may even be able to point you to one that have staff on hand that will speak your language and ease the communication barrier as you try to explain your flu like symptoms sans vivid and potentially disturbing hand gestures.

Another good first step is to gather your health information prior to leaving.  You should have on hand:
  •          Your family doctor’s office contact information
  •          Insurance company contact information
  •          Travel insurance company contact information if applicable
  •          Embassy contact information
  •          Medical emergency bracelets in case of serious allergies or medical conditions

 Next, check with your health insurance provider.  Most will not provide complete coverage while you are travelling outside of your country and many will not extend any coverage at all.  It is a good idea to look into obtaining international health coverage through a specialized agency if you are planning on being away for an extended period of time.  When travelling with a specific tour group, like International Career Studies for example, many of their tours and programs require participants to provide proof of insurance before departure and will provide a list of partnered companies that offer competitive quotes.  Even the healthiest of people get sick on occasion or run into some sort incident that will require medical attention.  Canadians travelling internationally often take for granted our easy access to healthcare until it is no longer there and costs an arm and a leg.

Know the generic names of all medication that you regularly take.  You might not be able to find brand names that you recognize when travelling and it helps it you know that Advil is ibuprofen and that Benadryl is diphenhydramine.  If you know there are certain medications that you will certainly need during your travels, be sure to pack an ample supply before you depart.

I know it sounds scary.  But there are many places in the world that offer outstanding medical care.  Just because you are travelling abroad does not mean that if you get sick, you give up.  Just like any trip, a little planning and forethought will save you a lot of anxiety if something does happen. 

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