While medical issues are stressful in any location, they can be especially daunting in a new and unfamiliar environment. Here are some ways you and your family can reduce the risk of health issues while abroad, even before you depart for assignment:
Research and schedule
Are there any regional outbreaks, diseases, or health hazards of which you should be aware in your new home? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) and World Health Organization, (WHO) are good sources for current information on endemic and short-term health problems in locations around the world. In addition, government agencies often issue regular country-specific advisories, available to their citizens who are traveling or relocating abroad. These advisories can include health considerations. Examples include Foreign travel advice in the UK, Smartraveller in Australia, Travel Advisories in the USA, and Travel Advice and Advisories in Canada.
It is also critical to determine well in advance what your options for health care insurance will be while you are abroad, and if the available coverage will meet your family’s needs. In the event that neither your employer nor your destination country’s government offer health care insurance, other expatriates, business colleagues, and international schools are all good resources for guidance in this area. International firms specializing in supplemental or comprehensive overseas medical coverage can also have helpful information.
Even if there are excellent doctors and dentists in your destination country, there will be plenty of things to keep you busy after your arrival. Therefore, before departure, arrange medical and dental checkups for every member of your family. Schedule these checkups far enough in advance to accommodate any necessary treatment. Be aware that some travel-related vaccinations are administered in a series, and may require even more time.
Consider your circumstances
Special conditions can dramatically affect a family’s experience on assignment. Well before departure, it is very important to determine whether an assignment will take you to any places that you or a family member may have difficulty accessing. You should also learn if there are any other challenges of which to be aware. For example, prescription medications may be more limited in your destination, or there might be fewer support services.
If a family member has a chronic health condition, determine whether it can be adequately treated in your new country. If they are under the care of a specialist at home, the specialist may be able to provide information or helpful references. Another source of information may be your country’s consulate in your destination country.
If you have family members who have depended on you for care while you are at home, it is very important to make and secure arrangements for them before your departure. Many countries offer visiting nurse or home help services, which may present a better alternative to residential care in some circumstances. Good sources of information for care options include physicians specializing in geriatric care, hospitals, health centers, social workers, support organizations, and community centers.
Gather personal data
Secure each family member’s complete medical records, so that they will be available to medical professionals in the new country. Make sure that these records are kept up-to-date, as you will need them when you return home.
Obtain written statements from your physicians and specialists that identify specific conditions, as well as recommendations for treatment. Medical imaging such as MRIs and x-rays, as well as any official analysis reports regarding these images, may also be worth taking with you. Sometimes, these materials are available in a digital format.
In case there are additional questions or more information is necessary, bring all contact information for home country medical professionals with you. In some countries, fax numbers or secure website logins are important communication tools, because they are commonly used for the transmission of medical documentation.
Your pharmacist can provide the generic names of prescription drugs so that pharmacies abroad will be able to match them with local equivalents. Any medications you take with you should be in the original labeled containers. You should have a signed and dated statement from the prescribing physician describing the health problem requiring the medication, as well as the dosage. Be aware that some countries require special documentation to accompany large quantities of medication, and that some countries do not allow the importation of certain types of drugs.
Store your family’s medical information in multiple and secure places, to reduce the risk of theft or loss.
Pack other important items
A small first aid kit is always useful, and over the counter medications, especially those for which you have specific brand or formulation preferences, are a wise addition to it. A health reference book from your home country may help you identify and treat simple maladies. An overnight bag with extra medication, toiletries and a blanket can be useful in the event of an unexpected hospital stay.
Many health conditions require items other than oral or topical medications for monitoring and treatment. If your preferred devices, testing materials, or other equipment is difficult to find in your destination country, be sure to bring a more than adequate supply, or make appropriate alternate arrangements.
Wearing a medical bracelet can be important if you or a family member has serious allergies, reactions to certain drugs, or a medical condition that should be immediately known in the event of an emergency. It may be useful to have its information translated into the language of the destination country, especially if English is not widely spoken.
Making key decisions and plans in advance can not only make a substantial difference in how you are able to handle medical emergencies while abroad, but also in the quality of your family’s assignment experience overall.