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Where Should You Go To Get Medical Care on Vacation?



When a summer vacation turns into a medical emergency, it can be nerve-racking to get your kids the care they need in an unfamiliar environment. Whether you’re traveling abroad or spending your days relaxing on the Jersey or Delaware shore this summer, you should plan ahead for any medical-related issues that could arise during your trip.

Prepare ahead of time

Rajinder Chugh, MD, regional medical director for AtlantiCare, says some of the most common medical problems during summer vacations are heat-related, like dehydration, as well as insect bites, contact dermatitis (rashes from contact with plants like poison ivy), ear infections (such as swimmer’s ear), food poisoning, allergies and sports injuries. “The number one piece of advice I’d give to parents while vacationing with their kids in the summer is make sure everyone is staying hydrated … and remember to pack those asthma or allergy medications,” he says.

It’s also important for parents to know their healthcare options. Map out the nearest pharmacy, urgent care center and emergency room before getting on the plane or loading up the car. “When preparing for any trip away from home — even day trips that aren’t local — research local hospital and urgent care facilities, and include their contact information on your itinerary,” says Wayne Burgess, MD, medical director of Patient First.

Where to go for which illnesses

When it comes to deciding whether to take your child to a pharmacy for an over-the-counter medication, an urgent care center, or the nearest emergency room, Adam Richards, MD, medical director of pediatric emergency services at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital, says to consider the kind of treatment your child might require. “For example, we see a lot of broken bones in the warmer months … if your child’s arm or leg looks funny, skip urgent care and go to the hospital emergency department because urgent care centers can’t handle any fracture that needs a procedure besides splinting,” he explains.

When your kids are complaining of an illness that isn’t quite as visible — such as abdominal pain — you may also want to go to the nearest emergency room. “Most of the time, belly pain in kids isn’t caused by anything dangerous … but urgent care centers aren’t set up to sort that out,” he adds. Other issues that may warrant an emergency room visit include wounds that could require stitches, animal bites, fever, headaches, or neck pain. “If you’re not sure what to do, call your pediatrician. Even if you’re out of town, your pediatrician’s on-call nurse can advise you,” Richards adds.

Today, many healthcare providers and hospitals offer telemedicine services to allow patients to consult with their doctor via video on their smartphone or other digital device. Independence Blue Cross provides its own platform for physicians to provide telemedicine services, and many insurance policies now include stipulations on how and when telemedicine services are covered.

For in-person visits, urgent care centers are typically equipped to deal with non-life-threatening conditions, Burgess notes, including an allergic reaction, cough, cut or scrape; ear or sinus pain; eye swelling, irritation, redness, or pain; fever, cold, or flu; sprain or strain; mild or moderate asthma attack; nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; rash, or sore throat.

Know what your insurance policy covers   

Along with your swimsuit and sunglasses, you’ll also want to be sure to pack your insurance card. According to Dale Mandel, MD, medical director for Independence Blue Cross, every insurance plan offers different coverage for dealing with emergencies when you’re on the road. He recommends a close look at your benefits booklet to be sure you understand exactly how your plan covers emergency care away from home if you need to visit an urgent care center or hospital. Parents should also confirm their plan’s coverage when they are outside their local network or the insurer’s coverage area.

“Almost all plans will provide coverage for a true emergency … which is typically thought of as a medical or psychiatric condition in which symptoms are so severe that the absence of immediate medical attention could place one’s health in serious jeopardy,” he adds.

In some cases, parents may want to consider purchasing travel insurance, which can provide coverage in case of extreme circumstances (such as evacuation back home) and help policyholders negotiate the healthcare system wherever the injury or medical emergency might occur.  

Jennifer Lesser is a freelance writer.

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