Finding health care while you’re traveling

Source: MARKETWATCH

How to find doctors, clinics and advice on vacation

By Kristen Gerencher, MarketWatch

Last Update: 12:01 AM ET Jul 3, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch)Getting sick or hurt while on summer vacation is unfortunate enough. Dont add insult to injury by neglecting a few health-related details that could save you money in the event you need medical treatment.

If youre traveling domestically, research in-network providers at your destination to avoid having to pay higher rates for out-of-network care. Go to your insurers website or call the toll-free number on your insurance card for help finding local in-network doctors for nonemergencies. Some insurers offer smartphone apps, such as UnitedHealthcares Health4Me app, that allow you to find physicians in a given area.

Keep your primary-care doctors phone number handy as well. You can always call for advice if it isnt an emergency.

Most of the time, parents just need an answer to a question," said Deborah Mulligan, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatric emergency physician in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Another option for relatively minor problems is visiting a retail health clinic or urgent-care clinic. There are more than 1,300 retail clinics in 39 states, and they accept major health plans or cash payment if you dont have coverage, said Tom Charland, chief executive of Merchant Medicine, a consulting firm in Shoreview, Minn.

Check your insurers website to find a facility, or go to the sites of big operators, such as CVSs MinuteClinic.com or TakeCareHealth.com, a Walgreens subsidiary.

Retail clinics offer a limited scope of services, treating ailments like pink eye, bronchitis, ear infections and bladder infections. If you have a non-life-threatening injury such as a simple fracture, cut or burn, visit an urgent-care center instead.

Its vital to carry a short health summary for every traveler in your family listing current medications and health conditions, previous hospitalizations, drug allergies, your doctors contact information and the like. The American College of Emergency Physicians offers a variety of forms online that you can print and fill out, including one for children with special health-care needs. (Go to emergencycareforyou.org/EmergencyManual, scroll down and click on Medical Forms.)

If youve had an EKG, take a copy of it in your wallet. This will help doctors establish a base line and possibly avoid an expensive cardiac work-up, said Linda Stogner, a family physician in Estancia, N.M., and ship physician with Lindblad Expeditions.

Its your record. Its your heart. You should have it, she said.

If you or your children are behind on immunizations, get caught up before you take off. Imagine the cost of falling ill from something like whooping cough or measles unnecessarily, Mulligan said.

Overseas travel

Traveling abroad is more complicated. Medicare doesnt cover routine or emergency care outside the U.S., except for a few narrow exceptions around the Canadian border and in or near U.S. harbors. Private insurers vary on what, if anything, they cover internationally.

Some group health plans may cover a medical evacuation, said Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for Americas Health Insurance Plans, a trade group in Washington, especially if the company has employees who travel abroad frequently.

One option is to buy travel insurance, which typically runs 5% to 7% of your total trip cost. Travel insurance for medical needs is usually offered as part of a package including coverage for trip cancellation and interruption, but stand-alone medical policies also exist. Plans are available through travel agents and online.

Policies typically cover everyday issues such as when a traveler falls and needs to fly home for surgery as well as emergencies that require a chartered flight with medical equipment. You can compare travel-insurance policies at Squaremouth.com and InsureMyTrip.com.

Without some insurance, the cost of a medical evacuation typically ranges $20,000 to $30,000, said Carol Mueller, spokeswoman for Travel Guard, a travel-insurance provider in Stevens Point, Wis.

A travel-insurance policy could cover three seats in first class with an attending nurse all the way up to a helicopter, Mueller said.

Take care

As you pack up to leave, remember all your health and prescription insurance cards. Make sure your prescriptions are filled and that you have enough should you be delayed upon return. Bring a medication lockbox if youll be around children. Whether youre camping or sharing a hotel room, vacations often mean close quarters with kids, who may have more access to potentially harmful substances.

Lastly, take good care of yourself when you hit the road. Apply sunscreen regularly to avoid a painful sunburn, and use caution when hauling and lifting luggage.

Fight dehydration by drinking plenty of water, and take bathroom breaks even if theyre inconvenient. Delaying urination can tax your body in ways that invite bladder infections, kidney stones and gout, Stogner said.

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