The Limitations of Travel Assistance Based Medical Care

Posted on December 10, 2015

It is 2am, you’re in Prague and start to feel vague abdominal pain. You google your symptoms, but nothing seems to be an exact match. Finally, you call the travel assistance hotline your company signed up for. They direct you to a local doctor; you call and find out the doctor’s office is not open till 9 AM. They direct you to the local ER, but you decide to wait for the doctor’s office instead.

By 7am your pain has escalated, and you are forced to go to the ER. The quality of care is unknown and none of the staff speak fluent English. The hospital does not have your medical records. You are still unsure of what is causing your pain and are alarmed at the lack of clear communication. You now call the travel assistance desk again to request a medical evacuation and are told you’re not eligible because you are currently at a facility that provides “adequate care.”

The same issue, addressed with WorldClinic care is a much different process; instead of calling travel assistance, you call the WorldClinic hotline, and speak with an ER doctor who has your medical records and has treated you before. The doctor evaluates you via a smart phone video-link, and although symptoms don’t explicitly point to appendicitis, because your WorldClinic doctor knows you personally, he suspects it may be worse than it appears. He immediately starts you on the antibiotics in your WorldClinic medical kit and arranges a rapid transfer to credentialed surgeon at a well-qualified, previously researched hospital nearby.

The WorldClinic doctor confers directly with this surgeon and provides the case details, a copy of your summarized medical records, and clinical recommendations for your care (CT scan, key labs etc.). The WorldClinic physician and care team stay in close contact with the receiving doctor to determine next steps, using a language translation service as necessary.

You are ultimately admitted to the hospital for observation. Overnight, the antibiotics do their job and your symptoms are much improved and need for emergency surgery negated. While you were in the hospital sleeping, WorldClinic also arranged a rapid medical evacuation to bring you back to your home hospital in the USA. On transfer, your records from the Prague hospital are translated into English and forwarded to the doctor assuming your care in the US. Throughout the entire process, the WorldClinic doctor and care team have been keeping your family fully informed of your progress throughout the entire event.

This scenario is surprisingly common, and occurs because most travel assistance programs are focused on making referrals and not on actually delivering real medical care. As such they are primarily organized as call centers with operators using referral databases and not as a dedicated medical practice for people working and traveling away from home. Without an exclusive focus on immediate diagnosis and initial treatment, the patient may suffer.

Rapid access to competent physicians who can diagnose and treat at-a-distance is what defines effective telemedicine.
In remote areas with limited access to good medical care, this lack of immediate diagnosis and treatment can result in injury and even death, not to mention a ruined vacation.

WorldClinic¹s entire care model is built on immediate diagnosis and treatment. All clients speak to experienced emergency physicians as soon as they call a hotline number. WorldClinic staff do detailed destination research and medical event planning for travel, especially for remote locations. Chronic conditions are identified and accepted (unlike in some travel assistance programs), managed, and incorporated into contingency planning.

With any travel planning, ensuring immediate access to medical care is essential for health and a positive travel experience. Before choosing any travel assistance program, fully understand how a medical problem will be handled and select those providers that specialize in immediate diagnosis and treatment.

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