A few years ago, after having spent 9 months working in Thailand and spending several months on vacation in South East Asia, I ended up with a few illnesses and injuries along the way. The possibility of getting sick aboard is not one that anyone wants to think about, but it can happen. So, what if you’re injured abroad? What if you get sick? What do you do next?
Many hotels & resorts, have an on-call or on-site nurse or nurse practitioner. Often times they can provide information, assist with getting medications, contact a physician if necessary or direct you to a clinic or hospital. In the larger cities you have many more options for healthcare.
Your hotel can help you connect with a doctor who speaks English and has Western medical training (as opposed to traditional Asian medicine if you’re in Asia). Your embassy will have a list of clinics, hospitals and providers in the city as well and most have it posted on their website. If you have friends, family or know people in the city they can be a good source of information as well.
I got a recommendation from the American Embassy in Bangkok and then asked the hotel to help me contact them. There is an organization in Thailand, and other countries, called Global Doctor and they provide 24-hour medical care. They have an office in Silom, one of the popular areas for tourists, and a doctor will come to your hotel.
After the hotel connected me with the doctor, I explained to him, over the phone, my symptoms and what home remedies/over the counter medicines I had tried. After asking a few questions, he suggested that I see a doctor. Within an hour, the doctor was at my hotel. He was trained in Singapore and Europe and had a nurse with him as well. He prescribed the medicines I needed, which he provided to me at a very reasonable cost, and gave me directions and instructions for care over the next few days.
The nurse prepared an invoice and the doctor prepared a form that I could submit to my insurance company. They take credit cards, which is extremely convenient.
The next day, the nurse called to check and see how I was feeling and she reminded me that just because I was feeling better I shouldn’t over-do it. So if you get hurt or sick away from home – a travel doctor can be just a call away.
If you get sick or become injured abroad there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Be prepared – get travel insurance! I tend to get insurance that covers emergent care and medical flight transport to a country of your choice. In S.E. Asia, I choose Singapore because medicine is very westernized, hospitals have a high standard of care and you don’t need a visa to get into the country. In some cases, your regular insurance may cover certain costs while overseas, but many insurance plans do not provide coverage on vacation, so check your own plan and coverage.
- Have a list of the medicines you’re currently taking and make sure you include the non-brand name. For example, you might list “Z-Pack” as an anti-biotic you’re taking, but some countries may not be familiar with that brand name, so you should also list it as Azithromycin, the actual drug name. Make sure you know the dosage you’re taking as well. It’s important for any medical professional treating you to understand what you’re currently taking.
- Have an emergency contact and list their phone number (with country code) and their email address in your phone and/or in your luggage.
- Register with the State Department so that they can assist in case of emergencies and will have permission to speak with authorized individuals on your behalf. This obviously isn’t going to help if you have the stomach flu, but it’s important in emergency situations like flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, riots or other political disturbances etc…
- Ask questions – if you’re unsure what the doctor is telling you, ask! If language is a barrier, ask for a translator. The hotel can provide this, or in a hospital there are often members of staff who speak multiple languages. Don’t leave with unanswered questions, it’s your health!
- Carry over-the-counter medicines, prescription medicines and supplies with you. A basic first aid kit is a great place to start. You may also want to bring over-the-counter items like stomach aids, pain killers like Tylenol or Ibuprofen, allergy medicine, topical creams (for bug bites) and anything else you think may come in handy. Depending on where you’re traveling, finding a suitable alternative for a common item you use in the US may not be as easy as you’d think. Often times labels are not in English, medicine names are not the same and in some cases, the same things just aren’t available.
- When you’re traveling with prescription medicine, it’s important to bring the actual prescription or label from the pharmacy. Each country has different rules about what medicines can be brought into the country and how much! Check with the US State Department website and the customs department of the country you’re traveling to for more info.
Here are some helpful links related to travel health