Thursday, May 20, 2010

Health Care and Travel Tips

Americans are getting ready for the holidays of the summer before the fall season comes into full swing. That means millions of people will be traveling, and that also means that you should prepare for any important health needs that you have. It also means you should think ahead just in case there is a medical emergency or accident. As the Boy Scouts say, "Be Prepared"--a timely motto that is timeless in its application. From the National Institutes of Health (NIH), please note the following suggestions before you hit the road for any travel:

1.) BEFORE LEAVING:
--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.

2.) ON THE ROAD:
--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.

If you are traveling with pets, the ASPCA has some great suggestions. Traveling can be highly stressful, both for you and the four-legged members of your family. But with thoughtful preparation, you can ensure a safe and comfortable trip for everyone. The ASPCA urges pet owners to think twice about flying their pets on commercial airlines, especially if they plan on checking them in as cargo. Unless your animal is small enough to fit under your seat and you can bring him or her in the cabin, the ASPCA recommends pet owners to not fly their animal. If pet owners have already committed to transporting their pets on commercial airlines, the ASPCA is offering the following top ten tips for safe air travel with your pet on their website: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/air-travel-tips.html.

When traveling with children, it's always important to plan ahead. According to KidsHealth.org, it's always important to take care of your health, but there are additional concerns to keep in mind when you're traveling. Whether you're taking a quick trip with your family or studying abroad for several months, it's easier to get sick when you're in a new place because your body hasn't had a chance to adjust to the food, water, and air in a new environment. Traveling can bring you in contact with things that your body isn't used to. Here are some tips on keeping your travel experience as healthy as possible as noted on their website: http://kidshealth.org/teen/safety/safebasics/travel_tips.html.

According to Travel Tips on USAToday.com, many United States citizens don't realize that they might not be covered by their health insurance when they travel abroad. Many private companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid programs, do not cover emergency treatment outside of the country; should an emergency occur, you and your family could incur medical bills that you need to pay for out of your own pocket. There are many companies that offer short-term medical coverage for travelers.

--Step 1: Ask your current provider about whether your policy covers you and your family while traveling abroad. Some insurance policies do extend coverage across borders, although there can be limitations based on location and type of medical care. Even if your current policy offers some coverage, it might be wise to seek out supplemental travel insurance that covers a wider array of services, including emergency services, which can require evacuation by helicopter or airplane.

--Step 2: Access your needs before seeking supplemental traveler's medical coverage. Factors that can affect the type of coverage you need include your health, including any pre-existing conditions; your travel destinations and length of stay; and any high-risk activities you are planning, such as scuba diving, mountaineering or camping in rural areas.

--Step 3: Examine each plan carefully and ask questions before you purchase. Ensure that it will provide coverage for the needs you identified in Step 2. You need to understand the exact amount of coverage it provides, what deductibles and co-payments are involved and any exemption limits and refund policies. Also, the U.S. State Department recommends looking for medical policies that guarantee their payments abroad, pay directly to foreign hospitals and foreign doctors and have a 24-hour support center.

--Step 4: Purchase from an established company. The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of reputable companies that offer traveler's medical insurance on its website. You also can ask friends and family who have purchased insurance when they traveled abroad for feedback and research customer comments about the company on the web.

If you are a senior citizen, look for companies that offer traveler's medical insurance plans as part of your Medicare supplement plans, according to USAToday.com. The American Association of Retired Persons can be a great place to start to look for information. Never assume that because you are traveling to a country that offers socialized medicine to its citizens that you will be covered similarly as a visitor. You might need to buy different types of supplemental medical coverage if you are traveling to areas where the U.S. Department of State has issued warnings. Always check the U.S. Department of State website before you travel.

Traveling can be big time fun, and it can also be very stressful--especially if you get sick or have an accident. Always take time to plan ahead to make sure your trip is worry free. Preparation to avoid being unprepared is always a good thing. Now, go have fun!

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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