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How to get Access to Healthcare when Abroad this Summer

May 27, 2024 • read

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How to get Access to Healthcare when Abroad this Summer

Canadians like to travel. We explore and experience cultures, food, and scenery at home and abroad. According to Stats Canada, Canadians took over 653,100 return trips overseas in 2023. But all that travelling can come with some challenges. At the top of the list for many Canadians is healthcare access while abroad. 

When your main vacation goal is to relax, it’s nice to know your healthcare is taken care of. In this article, we’ll show you how to plan for healthcare access while you’re abroad. 

Understanding healthcare options while abroad

Healthcare services differ from country to country. Before you take off, understand the available options and services. Research the local clinics, hospitals, and telehealth services. Note the general hours of operation, distance from your destination, and whether they handle emergency services.

In some cases, you may need to reach out to the Canadian government office nearest your destination for a list of clinics and physicians and details on how best to attain local medical services.

Your insurance may reimburse you for some medical needs, but you will be responsible for the upfront cost. Review your provincial insurance and extended benefits plan for coverage details. Consider traveller’s insurance to cover where your provincial plan doesn’t.

Create a healthcare plan 

A healthcare plan can help you and your travelling companions prepare for anticipated and unexpected medical issues. 

Include essential medical information for each person, including:

  • Food or medicine allergies
  • Pre-existing or chronic medical conditions
  • Prescription medications, including dosages
  • Medical insurance information
  • Vaccine records
  • Emergency contact information

As part of your preparation, familiarize yourself with common illnesses in your destination, including animal and insect bites. There may be vaccines that can help prevent the likelihood of an illness taking hold.

Consider telehealth services while abroad

Telehealth services can bridge the healthcare gap while travelling abroad by providing virtual telemedicine services and online prescriptions

Maple offers virtual care to assess and treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • Symptoms of viral and bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections
  • Conditions monitored with home devices such as high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Skin problems, including rashes and minor skin infections
  • Mental health issues 
  • Sexual health care and hormonal contraception

Telemedicine through Maple’s virtual care connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors and nurse practitioners, 24/7/365.

Even though primary care providers on Maple are based in Canada, you can still use Maple’s app when you’re travelling abroad — giving you peace of mind if you’re looking for medical advice in an unfamiliar place and care is hard to find. When travelling within Canada, you can get prescriptions sent to your closest pharmacy; if you’re abroad, you can have your prescriptions ready to pick up when you return home. 

Emergency medical preparedness while abroad

Unanticipated medical events happen, and in addition to your healthcare plan, pack a basic first aid kit stocked with:

  • Over-the-counter oral pain, allergy, and diarrhea medications
  • Epi-pen, if any travellers have anaphylaxis risks
  • Antibacterial hand wipes
  • Antibiotic and anti-itch ointments (such as Bacitracin and calamine lotion)
  • Antiseptic wipes, bandages, and sterile gauze pads for wound care
  • A thermometer
  • Tweezers, scissors, and adhesive tape
  • Tensor or adhesive bandage
  • Disposable gloves, face mask, and face shield
  • Aloe gel for sunburns
  • Instant ice packs
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Feminine hygiene products 

Choose travel-size options wherever possible to save on valuable luggage space. Check the supplies each year and replace any expired products.

Managing chronic conditions while abroad

Chronic conditions add a level of challenge to travel plans, especially if your destination has less developed healthcare services. Work with your primary care provider to create a plan to manage it while out of the country, and coordinate with your healthcare team for ongoing support.

Pack an ample supply of prescriptions and medical supplies (like diabetes testing supplies), and discuss exercise and activity options that match your location without making your condition worse. For example, patients with some heart conditions, poorly controlled asthma, or epilepsy shouldn’t scuba dive. 

If scuba diving or another higher-risk activity is on your list of travel adventures, consider scheduling a medical consultation to assess your fitness for the activity before your trip.

Discuss a diet plan that considers foods local to your destination. Review the hotel menu and inquire about accommodations for your dietary needs. If you’re staying at a private residence, research nearby grocery and specialty stores to familiarize yourself with local staples.

Tips for maintaining overall health while abroad

Vacations are for rejuvenation, relaxation, and exploration, and these tips can help you maintain your overall health while traveling abroad.

Know the dangers

From critters to cuisine, familiarize yourself with the dangers of the area. For example, scorpions and snakes are widespread throughout the world, but not all scorpions are poisonous. Contaminated food and drink can lead to travelers’ diarrhea and other unpleasant conditions and diseases.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands well and often. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, especially with unclean hands, and try not to touch surfaces in highly public areas. Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to prevent illness by removing the germs with soap and water or hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) when soap and water are not available.  

Practice safe sunning

Fun in the sun can lead to dehydration and heat-related illnesses. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion in yourself and your travel companion, and know how to treat excess sun exposure.

Wear protection

Whenever you’re heading out for a day in the sun, check the UV index for your area — a high index increases the associated dangers. Tropical destinations bring stronger UV indexes and are often accompanied by less clothing for protection. While snowy winter vacations surprisingly increase risk with reflection off the snow nearly doubling the UV index. Take appropriate precautions to protect yourself wherever your travels take you from sunburns and overexposure: 

  • Wear full-coverage, lightweight clothing made from breathable fabrics and a wide-brimmed hat to cover your head and ears and shade your face.
  • Avoid spending time in the direct sun during the peak hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
  • Use a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Reapply frequently, particularly after swimming. 
  • Be aware of any medications you may be taking that might increase your sensitivity to sun exposure.

Prevent dehydration

Dehydration can sneak up on you, especially when you’re touring hot and humid climates. Always travel with a bottle of fresh, clean water. Use an electrolyte replacement drink as needed. Limit alcohol consumption. Keep children well hydrated and avoid sugary drinks. Consider an oral rehydration solution for children as needed. 

Play safe

Use caution when you head out on your travel adventures. Avoid touring waterside and wilderness locations alone. Wear safety gear, including a helmet or personal floatation device (PFD) when appropriate. Never swim alone or unsupervised. Remember to download the Maple app on your phone ahead of time so you can speak to a primary care provider from wherever you are. 

Take the healthcare worry out of your next vacation. Familiarize yourself with the options, take the necessary precautions, and maintain a proactive approach to your well-being. Register with Maple before you go, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with being prepared for anything.

The information presented here is for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the advice from your medical professional. Virtual care is not meant for medical emergencies. If you are experiencing an emergency like chest pain or difficulties breathing, for example, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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