No one wants to think about having an emergency while on vacation. You’ve probably been planning your trip for months, so you are focused on all the wonderful things you will see and do. Still, if you want to make sure that you will have a fun, relaxing trip, it is very important that you take steps to prepare for traveling emergencies. Those of us heading off to vacations may be forgetting a crucial part of their travel emergency preparation- a health care plan.
Whether your vacation lasts two days or two weeks, summer is the a time for new scenery and adventures- both of which may result in a trip to the doctor. As families all over start planning their vacations, we’re here to help with some health tips for summer trips.
The first step in being prepared for healthy summer trip is scheduling a visit to your primary care physician. This is especially important for those traveling abroad; experts say less than a third of travelers seek medical advice before taking off, putting them at risk for unpleasant and potentially dangerous foreign illnesses, infections and parasites. Visit the Center for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health website for a complete travel health reference guide.
Once you your travel plans, you should also research which health care facilities will be available in your vicinity and how to get to them if an emergency arises. Is there a 24-hour walk-in clinic? Are there any minor emergency care centers or local doctors with extended hours? These facilities can care for non-urgent conditions faster and cheaper than a hospital ER. Many facilities, like Patient Choice Oceana in Virginia Beach, also offer X-ray and lab services onsite to walk-in patients. If you’re staying in a hotel or resort, the front desk may be able to provide you with information about local services.
To help these physicians treat you more effectively, it’s also a good idea to keep important medical information on you. It’s a good idea to carry in your purse or wallet a small card that notes the name and telephone number of your regular doctor, any allergies or chronic medical ailments you may have, whether your pregnant or not, and any medications (along with dosage) you may be taking. Also, review your insurance coverage so you know which services are covered and what instructions you need to follow in urgent situations. For example, if you go to an ER with an ear infection, your health insurance may not cover the cost. Also, some plans require that you notify them within a few hours of being admitted. If you don’t, your treatment may not be covered.
You should also locate the best (or closest) emergency rooms near you. Remember that not all hospitals are equipped to handle every emergency and that some hospitals don’t have any emergency care. Emergency facilities are rated Level 1, 2 or 3. Those rated Level 3 are the most comprehensive trauma centers with high-tech equipment and specialists on the premises at all times. Level 1 and 2 centers can handle many kinds of emergencies, but may not have specialists on hand for some needs. Find out what type of emergency services are available at the medical facilities where you’ll be.
If you are traveling to a different country, you should also find out how to summon police and emergency personnel. Remember that hospitals in a foreign country may not accept your health insurance as payment, so you will need to find out what steps you need to take to ensure that medical services will be available to you.
It can be difficult to judge when to visit the emergency room or when to seek out care with a primary care physician or a minor emergency center. Ultimately you need to learn to use good judgment in deciding when to use emergency medical services. Learn the signs of serious illness and trust your instincts.
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) recommends you become familiar with the symptoms of common illnesses and injuries such as those listed in the booklet Home Organizer for Medical Emergencies. For instance, the following conditions are most likely no cause for alarm and do not necessarily warrant a trip to the emergency room:
- Cold or Influenza
- Digestive Problems
- Headaches or Migraines
- Minor Cuts
If you are ever unsure about the need to see a doctor or other practitioner, call or email your primary care doctor for guidance. While doctors cannot give set guidelines for when to see a doctor, some problems clearly require a call to a health care practitioner. The doctor can tell you whether emergency treatment is necessary. Going to the emergency department for less serious problems may be appropriate when the primary care doctor is unavailable, as on weekends or during the night.
If you are alarmed by unusually severe symptoms, or the individual has a chronic condition (such as asthma, diabetes, HIV infection) that is threatening their health, it is best to seek immediate care. Do not delay a trip to the emergency room if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4° F (38° C) or above
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness or change in vision
- Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty waking)
- Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
- Bleeding that won’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
- Severe or persistent vomiting, coughing up or vomiting blood
If possible, call the ER before you go. Notifying the staff that you’re on your way will cut down on your waiting time by allowing the staff time to prepare for you. You will probably talk with a triage nurse who will ask you about your symptoms (or those of the person you are assisting) and will tell you whether you need to come in, if you need to call 911, what you can do before you arrive, and what information you need to bring to the hospital.
Remember that, at the end of the day, a safe, healthy traveler is a prepared traveler! Learn about where you are going, and don’t forget to do your research before you pack your luggage.