Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Planning to travel this winter? Take along more than a bathing suit and party clothes

Whether it’s a week of relaxation on a quiet beach in the Bahamas or a weekend getaway to the Big Apple for a concert at Lincoln Center and some shopping—or at least window-shopping—, nothing can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare faster than a medical emergency. And with the swine flu epidemic raising concerns about the potential health risks of traveling, it’s important for winter vacationers to be prepared.

Travelers with a medical condition for which they take prescription medication or might need special attention in the event of an emergency should:

  • Carry prescription medications in their original containers in a carry-on bag and label them clearly.
  • Have their physician write a letter explaining the condition, its limitations, and prescriptions to carry with them in case of an emergency.
  • Obtain a copy of their personal health record and carry it with travel documents.
  • Always carry their health insurance card and understand the insurance company’s process for seeking medical care when traveling.

Understanding your health care insurance is especially important when traveling abroad on a winter vacation. To be fully prepared for a medical emergency when away from home, travelers should:

  • Carry an insurance identification card and a claim form with other important travel documents.
  • Understand how their health insurance coverage works outside of the United States. For example, some insurers like UnitedHealthcare offer extended coverage for international medical expenses.
  • Find out how the health care system and emergency treatment works in the country they plan to visit.

Anyone planning a trip out of the country should consult with his or her physician about additional vaccinations that may be recommended or required prior to traveling. Also check with your health insurer because not all travel-related vaccinations are covered. Physician visits should be scheduled four to six weeks prior to departure because most vaccines take time to become effective, and some must be given in a series, over a period of days or sometimes weeks.

When traveling abroad, keep in mind that in many foreign destinations there will be obstacles to communication that could make finding help in an emergency difficult. To ensure a language barrier doesn’t stand in the way of getting help, travelers should:

  • Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers at the nearest U.S. embassy to find medical facilities and English-speaking doctors in the area where they plan to travel.
  • Learn the words for doctor, emergency, and hospital in the native language.

Now, “Bon Voyage” and don’t think about your job while you’re having fun!

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