Picture this: You’re on a dream vacation with your family and it’s perfect. You planned out well in advance the resort, the meals, the itinerary. And then something throws a wrench into your perfect vacation. No one ever wants to think that it can happen, but it does. Whether it’s a stomach bug or a broken bone, emergencies happen, and the steps you take to prepare for them are just as important as planning the vacation. Here’s hoping you’ll never need these seven simple steps for planning for a medical emergency while traveling.
Planning for a Medical Emergency while Traveling: 7 Simple Steps
I admit, I’m an overplanner when it comes to travel. I like to know all the details well ahead of time before my family ever hits the road for another “epic road trip.” But until a few years ago at Walt Disney World, I really didn’t think much about someone getting sick – until that someone was me. A vicious case of influenza found me in my hotel bed drenching the sheets at night when my fever would break from taking Tylenol, shivering when the NSAID wore off, no appetite, and lethargy out the wazoo.
After three days, my husband put his foot down and took me to the doctor. THAT was one thing I didn’t prepare for: what to do when a medical emergency hits on vacation. We ended up scrambling to find an affordable way to get me into a doctor’s office, which still landed us with outrageous urgent care co-pays. I learned my lesson on that one. Never again! Here’s what you need to know about planning for medical emergencies while traveling.
1. Find Out Exactly What Your Insurance Covers When You’re Traveling
And by that, I mean find out the extent of your insurance coverage when you travel. If you’re traveling internationally, it can get a bit tricky. Call your insurance provider and learn exactly what you are and aren’t covered for. If you don’t understand insurance lingo, ask whomever you speak with to “explain it to me like I’m seven years old.” I’ve done that before and I’m not ashamed.
2. Create A List of Preferred Providers
Most insurance companies have pretty decent websites that allow you to log in and look up providers in the area you’ll be traveling. Create a list of preferred providers (including hospitals, immediate care centers, and physicians) in the area you will be visiting and keep in the note section of your phone, or email it to yourself. If you’re old-school like I am, write in on a note card and leave in it in your suitcase.
3. Hop on the Phone and Ask Questions
Call selected providers/approved doctors ahead of time to see if they take new patients. If they don’t, explain the situation and ask for referrals to other care centers in the area. I’d be much more likely to visit a care center recommended to me by another doctor’s office. Again, add all of the details you’ll need to the notes section of your phone, an info sheet, or email them to yourself.
4. Check with the Concierge Desk in Your Hotel or Resort
Ask your hotel about emergency facilities and procedures and have back up in case you run into a medical emergency. When I had the flu, my husband asked our Disney Resort concierge for the closest care center. He used Google Maps to find it and we were back in a few hours with a prescription. Mind you, I really wish I’d have done my research ahead of time so he wasn’t scrambling to find a doctor, but concierge is there to help. Use them if you need to. And, while you’re there, ask them where the closest place to get a prescription filled would be as well.
5. Driving or Flying? Make a Plan to Get to a Doctor Ahead of Time
Have a rental car ready (or at least quick access to one) to save precious time in case of an emergency, even if you don’t plan on any side trips. Think about where you’ll be traveling and how that may impact getting to a doctor. For instance, Orlando is not NYC – cabs are not cheap or plentiful and they have their own, very different, rate structures.
Ask concierge if your hotel or resort has a transportation service. If the doctor is in the car service’s range, they may be able to drop you off and pick you up.
If you’ll be flying internationally, another point to make is to consider medical evacuation membership. Not health or travel insurance, companies like MedJet Assist pick you up in a medically equipped airplane and take you to your hospital of choice. Cost is less than $600 per year for a family and they have student rates.
6. Not an Extreme Emergency but Still Need a Doctor? Consider an Online Specialist.
What if your emergency ends up being simple, like a prescription refill or the sniffles? Sure, you’d need to see a doctor but really don’t need a trip to urgent care or the emergency room. That’s when you may want to consider an online doctor consultation. While there are several companies to choose from, TravelingMom has worked with Amwell in the past and we found it to be efficient and affordable – way more affordable than an urgent care visit.
7. Have A Travel Credit Card? It May Cover Emergency Expenses
At the time I got the flu at Walt Disney World, we didn’t know about the benefits of one credit card over another. But, we do now, happily. We have one that reimburses us for emergency care while traveling. That would have been a blessing when I got sick, but you know the old adage about hindsight being 20/20, right?
My advice? Check with the credit card companies you are already using and ask them about emergency travel benefits. If you don’t have one that offers what you need, consider applying for one if it suits your budget and family dynamic.