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Medical emergencies abroad

stethoscope emergency

Strolling through the snow-swept paths of Central Park is most people’s idea of a dream Christmas. At least it was for British couple Katie and Lee Johnston, until their baby son made an appearance – 11 weeks early. Stuck in the United States with no travel insurance, the young parents faced a hospital bill of up to $200,000 as baby Dax resided in a neonatal intensive care unit at Lennox Hospital in New York. With Dax too weak to travel home, the Johnstons were looking at nearly a 60-day stay across the water with living and medical expenses rapidly increasing.

The unexpected befell the Johnstons, which you cannot plan for – but you can prepare. There are plenty of steps travellers can take in advance of a trip away, which can minimise financial costs and the inevitable stress that comes with a medical emergency abroad. We’ve listed below some incredibly simple steps to take ensuring everyone has a safe and enjoyable trip.

1. See your doctor before you go
It’s a good idea to get a medical check-up from your doctor before you go. If you’re planning on taking part in strenuous physical activities such as hiking or skiing, pay a visit to your doctor to make sure you’re in good shape for it. Consider whether you need vaccinations for your destination, too. In an AA study, 23% of males aged 17-24 years old told us they needed medical attention whilst abroad compared to just 15% of women in the same age bracket. So once you pay a visit to the doctor, tell your partner/dad/brother to do the same!

2. Medical care in your destination
Learning about the quality of medical care in your destination means you’ll know what to expect should you need it. For example, in Spain there are two types of health establishments you can visit depending on the severity and type of illness - a hospital and a health centre (Centro de Salud). For serious illnesses or injuries, it’s expected that you would visit a hospital, but for instances not requiring immediate hospitalisation the Centro de Salud is your best bet. Knowing information such as this allows you to make sound judgements about what type of treatment you need.

3. Know how to seek medical care
Do you know how to call for help in a foreign country? It’s not something you even think of amongst the flurry of packing and printing out flight tickets, but it could prove to be the most vital. Click here for a map that shows local emergency telephone numbers from around the world.

4. Carry health information
You might know your blood type and that you’re allergic to peanuts, but what about other background information like medications or previous surgeries? These could be crucial to a doctor giving you emergency treatment.

And while it’s wise to carry your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) with you if you’re travelling to Europe, be aware that it won’t cover for things like an air ambulance home if someone is in serious trouble, which can cost up to €20,000.

5. Check your insurance
People often think medical care isn’t included in their travel insurance policy, but a lot of the time it is and they just don’t know. Check your policy to ensure you’re getting value for money and sufficient coverage. The AA provides unlimited medical cover for Members who have an extra Travel policy, meaning there are no restrictions on the amount you can claim. For more information on AA Travel Insurance, please click here.