Be Prepared For A Medical Emergency When Traveling

Carol Barbee, RN, FNP
Occupational Health, St. Joseph’s/Candler

Smart Living:  Our hope for vacations and travel is obviously to have a wonderful time, but there is always a chance that we might need to go to the hospital for an emergency. Is there anything people can do to prepare for such an emergency?

Carol Barbee: When we travel, our only defense is what we take with us, and that includes our family members who know our medical history. It’s usually not feasible to bring our medical record with us, but we can bring an up-to-date list of our medications as well as a list of physician contacts, including any specialists we may have seen recently.

Carry this list with you or store it in your smartphone, because it’s possible to forget pieces of information, even about your own history, in the stress of an emergency situation.

If possible, bring a 30-day supply of your medication in its original bottle if you are traveling outside the United States. The hospital in the place you’re traveling to may or may not have your particular medication. They will be able to get you something similar, but obviously it’s best to have your own prescribed medication.

Depending on where you’re going, check with your doctor to make sure you are up-to-date on immunizations. For example, if you are going on a medical mission, you may need to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A, which we don’t typically vaccinate for in the U.S.

SL: Is our health insurance valid in other countries?

CB: Health insurance from the U.S. is frequently not accepted outside of the country.  Ideally, travelers will have some emergency space on a credit card.

SL: Do travelers need to worry about any language barriers?

CB: Language barriers are always a concern when we travel, but most medical facilities are going to have something similar to what we have at St. Joseph’s/Candler.  We use Cyracom, a network of interpreter phones that provide a translation service for nurses treating patients who do not have English as their first language. Hospitals in other countries will also have someone on staff who can speak multiple languages.

Also, many countries have an emergency phone number like 911 in the U.S. Check online to see if the place you’re traveling to has a specific number. That could save precious time in an emergency.

But please don’t forget that updated list of the basics. You and your fellow travelers will always want to be able to quickly communicate the crucial facts: I have this diagnosis, treated by this physician, for which I use this medication. 

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