Hello? Is the doctor there?

Global travelers must contend with the differences – and sometimes limitations – of a foreign healthcare system. But what if you had a tool that makes it easier?

Telehealth is an option in an increasing number of locations. Due partly to the global COVID-19 pandemic, phone and video consultations have become logical replacements for in-person visits in many cases.

Domestic populations’ overall health is elevated through telehealth also. Some countries – especially large ones like India and Australia – have a wide disparity in health care between populated urban areas and remote regions. Telehealth is one solution toward better access.

A traveler who falls ill abroad may be able to consult with a physician back home. Certain types of illnesses lend themselves to telehealth: general malaises that can be described without need for doctor’s hands-on examination; many dermatological conditions; certain eye conditions; mental health; advice on poisons; any chronic issues that you and your doctor are already monitoring and for which a follow-up can easily happen via video chat discussing patient-reported symptoms.

If you have specific conditions which you know will need monitoring, consider keeping some medical devices at home – like a blood pressure cuff for someone with high BP or a glucose monitor for a diabetic — along with standard items like a thermometer. These readings will give your tele-doctor some helpful data to evaluate and treat you.

Obviously, if you need any special equipment or diagnostic tools, a video appointment is not going to be effective.

Keep in mind that language can be an issue when trying to describe the nuances of a problem. Even if you can’t connect with a medical professional from home, a host country directory may let you filter by language spoken. Check your camera and lighting. Sit near a window or use an additional light source if necessary. A solid Internet connection is also key for video calls.

Before arranging a virtual appointment, confirm that such visits are covered by your insurance plan. Your insurer or medical group may have their own platform or app for tele-visits.

Also note that most countries now have policies that support and/or regulate the telehealth sector. Some countries – like Bahrain and South Africa – require any practitioner who treats a patient in the country to be registered or licensed with the national health authority. This can make it trickier to see a home-country health professional, but knowing this ahead of time prepares you to search for a local doctor.

Some countries have advanced telehealth offerings, such as New Zealand, whose National Telehealth Service offers a range of well-established services. Kazakhstan’s strategic focus on delivering better medical access to rural regions nearly 20 years ago led to a successful telemedicine network that is now transitioning to digital health solutions. In this expanding space, it’s become easier for travelers to access the healthcare they need around the world.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group