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The Doctor Is: Far Away From Home

The Doctor Is: Far Away From Home

Editor’s note: In light of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, AAA Northeast directs its members to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for timely updates and information.

Getting sick or hurt isn’t something that you can plan on, but it can happen – even when you’re traveling. With your own doctor out of reach, how will you get the health care you need?

It will be easier with a little advance planning, according to Dr. Lim H. Chen, president-elect of the International Society of Travel Medicine. That means packing your immunization records, information about underlying health conditions and any medications you are taking.

Your health care provider might have a patient portal that gives you easy access online, “but travelers might end up in places where it’s hard to access the internet,” Chen said. A paper backup is a good idea.

Research health care options at your destination before you go. Your insurance company is a good place to start. If your destination is in the U.S., there may be providers in the area or telemedicine options you can access.

Your insurance company will also be able to tell you what it will cover and what you’ll need in order to be reimbursed.

“The general rule is you always have to expect to pay out of pocket – cash or credit card – at the time of service,” said Chen. Some insurance companies will want you to contact them before you receive care, and all will require documentation, generally in English.

If you’re traveling abroad, the U.S. embassy can offer a list of health care providers, though Chen says these may not always be vetted. Connect with embassies through the State Department website,

The International Society of Travel Medicine website,, features a global travel clinic directory. These providers specialize in pre-travel medicine but can connect you with other resources.

Or, with a small donation, you could join the nonprofit International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, It has listings of medical clinics and English-speaking doctors around the world.

If you do see a doctor away from home, bring aback-follow-up information for your regular health care provider. this includes doctor’s notes, lab reports and radiology reports like X-rays and ultrasounds.

“The more information somebody brings home, the better it is,” said Chen. “Very often, we’re guessing or have to take the patient’s word for what they heard the doctor say.”

A little homework and a little follow-through can smooth the way toward getting the care you need.

Read more articles about travel-related health topics.


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