Thursday, August 6, 2009

Health Care and Vacation

Everyone loves a vacation. Americans are known to for going on vacation during various times of the year, and usually those times coordinate with work schedules or school calendars. Spring break, summer time, and major holidays are the most frequent times. You can spend a little or a lot, and you can have tons of activities or do nothing at all--just relax. Vacations are what you make them, and many times can be the best way to get time away from work, school, or the hectic pace of everyday life. Vacations can be lots of fun, or they can create havoc if you encounter problems along the way with travel, location, or any one of a myriad of possibilities that can happen. More often than not, though, most people have a great time on vacation.

A major key to ensure a great vacation is to prepare for any medical or health care issue that may arise. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have great tips to follow:
--Bring nonprescription medications that you might need with you.
--Check your health insurance carrier regarding your health care coverage (including coverage for emergency transport) while traveling out of the country.
--Consider traveler's insurance if you are going abroad.
--If you are leaving your children, leave a signed consent-to-treat form with your children's caretaker.
--If you are planning a long flight, minimize jet lag by scheduling your arrival at your destination as close to your usual bedtime as possible, according to the time zone to which you are flying.
--If you are taking medications, talk to your health care provider before leaving. Carry any medications with you -- not in your luggage.
--If you are traveling to another country, research the accessibility and quality of health care there.
--If you have an important event at your long-distance destination, plan to arrive 2 or 3 days in advance, if possible, so that you will be fresh for your appointment.
--Take immunization records, along with any other important medical records, especially when traveling to another country.
--Take a medical first aid kit.
--Take insurance ID cards.
--Take sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses.
--Take the name and phone numbers of your pharmacist and health care provider.
--When traveling to an underdeveloped country, make sure that everyone in your traveling party is adequately immunized against any infectious disease you might encounter. Some countries require certificates of vaccination against diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, meningococcal meningitis, tetanus, and yellow fever. Check with your health care provider. The Centers for Disease Control maintains updated advisories and immunization requirements for travelers to all parts of the world.

--Avoid mosquito bites, which can spread infections, by wearing proper clothing and using insect repellant.
--Cooked foods are usually safe, but raw foods and salads (lettuce, raw vegetables, fruit with peel, unpasteurized milk, milk products, undercooked seafood or meat) may lead to gastrointestinal problems. Eat in restaurants that have a reputation for safe cooking.
--Consider automobile safety and use seat belts when traveling.
--If you are visiting an area where diarrheal illnesses are common (Mexico, for example), speak with your health care provider about getting a prescription for antibiotics. Fill the prescription and take it with you in case you fall ill.
--If you come down with diarrhea, drink plenty of bottled liquids. Broths and carbonated beverages are good for maintaining your strength.
--Prevent infections with hand washing.
--Upon arrival, check the local emergency number. Not all communities use 911.
--When traveling long distances, expect your body to adjust to a new time zone at the rate of about 1 hour per day.
--When traveling to less economically developed countries, don't drink the water if you want to avoid the risk of diarrhea. Remember the ice may also be contaminated if there is concern about the water quality. Bottled water may be safe, as long as it is factory bottled. Traveler's diarrhea can also result from drinking beverages that contain ice. Bottled carbonated sodas, beer, and wine (without ice) are safe.
--When traveling with children, make sure that they know the name and telephone number of your hotel in case they get separated from you. Give them enough money to make a phone call, and make sure they know how to use the phones if you are in a foreign country.

Before you head out on the road, provides great feedback on how to prepare: 1.) Plan ahead. Visit your doctor and find out which vaccines you should receive before you travel. If you're traveling to an area where a particular disease is prevalent (malaria, for example), ask your doctor for prescriptions to prevent the disease or combat its symptoms. Find out about health risks, including contagious and insect-borne diseases, weather-related health issues and current health alerts before you leave home. Be sure to learn about which medications you can carry into your destination country by checking with its embassy.
2.) Make sure you have not only your prescription medications in original bottles, but also any over-the-counter medications you might need while on vacation. If you're traveling overseas, bring copies of each prescription and ask your doctor to write a letter describing any controlled substances and / or injectable medications on his or her letterhead so that you can bring these items with you.
3.) Insure yourself. If you are a U.S. citizen and Medicare is your only health insurance, you definitely need to buy travel health insurance if you plan to leave the U.S. If you have other health insurance coverage, check with your provider to find out whether you're covered for medical care and medical evacuation if you become ill while on vacation.
4.) If your policy does not cover these situations, purchase an emergency medical coverage plan before you leave home. To get the maximum possible coverage, do not purchase this policy from your airline, tour operator or cruise line; use a third-party provider. Read the entire policy carefully before you pay for it to be sure you're covered for pre-existing conditions, health care while you are away and medical evacuation if you need to return home for treatment. To learn more, read the U.S. State Department's country-specific medical insurance information.
5.) Pack defensively. Your travel medical kit should include prescription medications, health insurance cards, proof of immunization (if needed), travel insurance documents and emergency medical supplies. Depending on your destination, also bring:
--Insect repellent
--Anti-diarrheal medication
--Pain / fever medication (e.g. ibuprofen)
--Antihistamines and / or decongestants
--Antacid tablets
--Motion sickness medication
--First aid supplies

Additionally, have great advice to stay healthy when on vacation. It's so easy to fall into unhealthy habits when you travel. Heavy restaurant meals, little scheduled exercise, strange sleeping arrangements and late nights exploring new towns can lead to feeling rundown. To keep your immune system in tip-top shape (and to keep from returning home five pounds heavier!), it's important to maintain your at-home healthy habits even when you're on the road. Consider these six tips to do just that:
1. Wash your hands a lot! One of the most important ways to reduce infectious disease transmission is to wash your hands carefully and frequently with soap and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hand washing--or using hand-sanitizer gel with alcohol--will help stop common cold germs in their tracks, too.
2. Stay hydrated. Although the World Health Organization says that low humidity on airplanes does not cause internal dehydration, it's still healthier to ask your friendly flight attendant for a cup of ice water instead of caffeine-filled sodas or alcohol. Make sure you have plenty of bottled water in your hotel room and drink it throughout your trip.
3. Pack healthy snacks. In your carry on, bring some apples, dried fruit, protein bars, peanut butter crackers or small tins of nuts, so you won't feel the need to make a purchase at one of those ubiquitous mega-cinnamon roll stands in the airport.
4. Make smart choices at restaurants. If you eat healthy meals at home, there's no reason why you can't at restaurants, as well. Skip the bread basket, order lean meats and veggies, and if you must have dessert, propose ordering one for the whole table to share.
5. Work out at your hotel or cruise-ship fitness center. If you have a choice among hotels, find one with cardio equipment, strength-training equipment or a decent-sized pool for lap swimming. Nearly every cruise ship these days has a fitness center or track on an outdoor deck. You've got no excuse! But you could also consider bringing along an exercise band for strength training; doing simple push-ups, squats and lunges in your room; scouring the television listings for a cable yoga class; or taking a jog around your hotel neighborhood. Heck, even a walk on the beach is good for you!
6. Get good shut-eye. This is easier said than done, especially if you want to see and do everything on vacation! But do your best to hit the sack early so you can have loads of energy for your days full of sightseeing.

Vacations mean fun. But make sure your fun is not interrupted by medical problems as a result of not taking care of important health care concerns, especially on a preventive basis. Certain emergencies may not be avoided, but common sense goes a long way to keep you safe and healthy when you are on vacation. Enjoy your trip. Have fun, but be smart about it.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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