Medical Care on the Road: 6 Tips for Seeking Urgent Care While Traveling

July 12, 2019 | By: Dr. Feeney

There are bathroom emergencies and there are bathroom medical emergencies. When traveling, especially in a foreign country, knowing how to say the difference could be a lifesaver. Take acute urinary retention, the inability to urinate because something is blocking the bladder or urethra. It’s painful and requires immediate attention, but if the patient is unable to articulate “I cannot pee,” he or she may just be shown the door to the loo (restroom).

Experiencing a medical emergency while vacationing can be harrowing, in the States as well as abroad. So as you plan your summer vacation, fold these six precautionary measures into your plans. The benefits will outweigh the bit of time needed to research and plan, even if all you get is peace of mind.

  1. Look into the nearest hospitals and clinics. A lot of travelers make a point of choosing a hotel near great museums and restaurants. It’s worth adding a hospital and/or clinic to the list, especially if someone in the travel party has an existing condition. A few considerations should apply.
  • The quality of the team. Check the specialists to ensure the expert you or a fellow traveler would need is on hand. For example, does the facility employ a full-time urologist? Also, look for a good-sized nursing staff.
  • The equipment. Make sure the hospital or clinic has the type of equipment you would want available in an emergency, such as a lithotripter (to break up kidney stones) and CT scanner.
  • The outcome of an emergency will vastly improve if the medical staff and patient speak the same language. If not, have a cheat sheet available (more below).
  1. Review your insurance policy. Confirm your coverage options. Medicare is available nationwide,but not overseas. Kaiser Permanente covers emergency care around the world, but it could be out of network. International medical insurance is available through AAA or major credit card such as American Express. Call your insurer; if anything, they may be able to provide insights about the medical facilities in the areas you are visiting.
  2. Carry an emergency fact card. Keep a list of everything a care staff would need to properly treat you. This includes: your name and address; your doctor; emergency contact information (including email addresses); insurance information; prescription medications; and previous or existing conditions and treatments. If traveling in a foreign country, be sure the list is in that language, as well.
  3. Contact the embassy. If you or a companion experience a medical emergency while in the midst of traveling abroad– in route from one point to another, for example – members of the nearestS. embassy should be able to help locate medical services and notify family and friends. Find embassy office locations around the world at http://www.usembassy.gov/. Travelers also can register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/step/.
  4. Load an app. Some phone apps will store medical information and send medical alerts. The ICE app (In case of Emergency) is especially handy for international travel because it can be translated into 13 languages. The app stores important information that can be accessed by emergency responders or hospital staff, and can be accessed if the phone is locked. If traveling domestically, the SirenGPS app will send precise patient locations to paramedics via 911.
  5. Know how to ask for help. If traveling in a foreign country, learn the key words that mean, “I need a doctor for an emergency.” It’s also worth keeping a cheat-sheet of translated symptoms, such as “I have severe pain in my lower back,” “I am passing blood,” or “I can’t urinate!”

Lastly, carry the basics of a first-aid kit, such as pain killers, rehydration and anti-diarrhea treatments, bandages and antiseptics. I also recommend that men with enlarged prostates (BPH) carry a prescribed bottle of Flomax with them, even if they do not take it regularly at home. And, anyone prone to urinary tract infections should consider bringing a short course of antibiotics.

These pre-trip precautions may not be as aspirational as reviewing photos of a resort hotel, but a few minutes of precaution could spell the difference between a quick recovery or critical outcome.

Happy travels, and best wishes that your only emergencies are bathroom availability emergencies.

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