Depending on where and how much you travel, it may be unlikely that you will ever experience a health emergency in a foreign country. At the same time, an accident or something completely unexpected (see appendicitis) can happen on even the shortest of trips. With this in mind, you should always have a rough idea of what to do in a health emergency.
Have the right documentation on your person at all times
This would include travel insurance information (if you don’t have a card, have the policy number and company name), emergency contact info, blood type and any allergy information. All of this documentation may seem like paranoia, but it’s so easy to get this information together, take it with you and forget about it. And it really is less of a bother than it sounds like – just photocopy or write all of these things on to one piece of paper (or two, so you have a backup), fold it up and put it in your wallet, passport or somewhere else convenient.
Know what medical care options you have
If you are traveling to a developing world country or you plan on spending extensive time in a rural area, you need to know what options are available when it comes to medical treatment. If you have taken out a medical evacuation plan (see our post on this here), you should know what the protocol is and if you are planning on getting local emergency care you should know where the best care is provided. Generally, you can use your embassy as a resource for this. You can also look in guidebooks and check out expat communities on the net for further advice.
Carry a basic first-aid kit
You might not need to visit a medical facility, if you have a basic first-aid kit. For recommendations on a kit to buy or assemble, see our gear post. At the very least, you should have some sterile bandages and an antiseptic solution. If you are traveling to rural or developing world areas, you should have a more substantial kit and of course, if you have any particular allergies or medical conditions you should be well equipped for those as well.
Learn a bit of the local language
In many cases, health emergencies are evident, but it’s always helpful if you can explain to someone what is happening. In most larger hospitals and clinics in urban areas, you will be able to find English speaking doctors, but this may not be the case at smaller clinics and those in rural areas. In addition to helping you in an emergency, knowing a bit of the local language will also enhance your overall experience.
Ok, so you got all patched up and you’re back on the right track. You’re going to want to contact your travel insurance company. Make sure you save any and all documentation from the medical facility that you visited. You will need this later when you file your claim. You will also want to contact someone from home to assure them that you are OK. Research international calling rates on the net or use a computer to computer service like Skype, which doesn’t cost any money. Finally, if you have a local phone number, make sure you have given that number to important folks back home.
None of this is meant to make you paranoid. It is unlikely that you will have a health emergency while traveling. But if you do, it pays to know how to deal with it. Taking a bit of time to organize documentation, research medical facilities and learn a bit of the local language, will go a long way to putting your mind at ease while also preparing you in the process.
If you have any tips of your own when it comes to having a plan for a health emergency or if you have a story where you used (or didn’t use!) such a plan, please share in the comments below.
Photo from Flickr user andrewwilding.