What to do if you have a medical emergency abroad

Red urgent care sign, in French, pointing to car access

If you’re preparing to travel to an unfamiliar country, have you considered what would happen if you experienced a medical emergency while you’re there? Let’s go through some factors to consider as you get ready to travel.

What steps should you take before traveling abroad?

If you have preexisting medical conditions or take medication that requires monitoring, then it’s recommended to see a doctor before traveling overseas. If you’re healthy, it’s not necessary to see a doctor beforehand.

Before traveling to a new location, especially overseas, it’s important to spend time researching the area beforehand and familiarizing yourself with the local medical resources. Learning how to activate the 911 system specific to the regions you are traveling can also be helpful.

What items should you pack when going overseas?

While it is crucial to pack any medications you might be taking, don’t overlook other important medical tools that can help during your trip, especially in the event of an emergency.

Portable first aid kits and copies of any recent medical scans can be helpful, as well as end-of-life documents, if pertinent.

If you have a heart-related condition, take a photo of an EKG on your phone prior to traveling.

What to do if a medical emergency happens in another country

In the event of a medical emergency overseas, try to ensure that the recommended medical providers are reputable, licensed professionals. Although hospitals or clinics might look slightly different overseas, they should still mostly resemble a typical health care center like here in the United States.

Most professionals from other countries, especially in urbanized areas, will be able to provide you with the necessary medical care. However, remote areas might lack important resources, such as only providing general physicians and being unable to offer specialists like cardiologists or neurologists. It’s important to determine if this is a risk you are willing to take prior to traveling, especially if you have a condition that means you’re more likely to experience an emergency that would need a certain medical specialist’s help.

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How to advocate for yourself in a medical situation abroad

If there’s a language barrier inhibiting you from advocating for yourself, services like Google Translate can facilitate communication between parties. However, certain remote areas with poor cellular connection might make it difficult to access such resources, a factor that should be considered prior to travel. Certain countries might also provide interpreters, while others may not.

If you are desperate for care in a country where you have difficulty advocating for yourself, the United States provides services, for a fee, to transport you back home. Such services might also be included in an organization’s employee health care benefits — ask your health care benefits provider about specific medical travel services.

Should you buy travelers’ insurance?

Investing in travelers’ insurance is a multifactorial decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis. If you are healthy, there is usually no need to make the purchase unless you plan to embark on risky excursions, especially alone.

If you work for a larger organization, they might already provide global travel services as part of your health care benefits.

If you have a chronic medical condition or if you are older, travelers’ insurance might be a beneficial investment.

When an emergency strikes, turn to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s full-service, state-of-the-art emergency departments

Our facilities are equipped to handle any medical emergency.

Find a location near you


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