Managing Medical Care for Lifestyle Travelers
It was tough for me to keep up with regular appointments when we lived in one place, but managing medical care on the road is even trickier.
Managing your health doesn’t have to be tough though, it just takes a little extra planning.
Create a home base
My husband and I use our hometowns as home bases. We spend a few months in each spot every year so we can get lots of QT with our families.
Keep your medical care as consistent as possible by scheduling your regular care in one of your home bases.
Make your appointments before you arrive so you don’t risk dealing with a long wait time for your appointment and potentially missing your window.
Maintain your regular appointments
When you’re traveling to different countries and keeping an irregular schedule, you likely overlook changes in your health or warning signs you would see if you had a more consistent schedule.
You don’t want to be caught in an emergency situation somewhere unfamiliar so keep up with your regular appointments more faithfully than you would in a stationary lifestyle to avoid emergencies.
What regular medical appointments should you be getting?
- Primary Care Provider
Going to the same provider helps them and you understand the context of your medical health.
If they know about an abnormal test result from last year, they can take it into consideration when you have a relevant symptom again.
Also get referrals from friends and family so you’re most likely to have a good experience.
Take advantage of telemedicine
If you don’t need a physical exam, telemedicine can be a great way to keep consistency with your provider between visits.
Some providers will do a follow up with you on a video call as long as they’ve met you in the office first. Explain your situation to them and ask if this could be an option for continuing care.
Get a second opinion
If you don’t know your doctor, take what they say with a grain of salt.
Doctors have a lot of discretion. One dentist may say you have perfect teeth, another may say you need 3 fillings.
If something doesn’t sound right, get a second opinion, especially if you’re not familiar with your doctor.
Choose the right insurance
If you’re traveling within the U.S., your standard medical insurance should work most places but you may have more or less availability of providers in different spots.
When we traveled to Hawaii, I’d planned to get a follow up test but didn’t have a single provider in the state in-network for that service. While you’re choosing your plan, make sure you have in-network providers near your home base.
Get travel insurance
Outside of the U.S., your regular insurance may not apply. Buy additional travel insurance to make sure you have adequate coverage internationally according to your travel schedule.
Follow up from a different location if needed
Medical issues progress if they’re untreated. If you have a packed travel schedule, it’s easy to put off that follow up for a little too long.
Take care of medical issues quickly to avoid emergencies, even if that means following up from a new location.
It takes more communication between doctors if you do this. They are not expecting you to move and may be confused when they hear from a facility in another state. Keep everyone in the loop. Let them know where you will be following up from. Make sure to share each provider’s phone and fax number so you can put them in touch with each other in case they need additional verification for your testing or treatment.
Be prepared for additional follow ups if you’re changing location
If you need to do your follow up appointment with a new doctor, they will likely want to diagnose you themselves before treating you.
For example, I had a cavity but was leaving the following week, so I scheduled time with a dentist in my new location. The new dentist required a cleaning and exam then a separate appointment for the filling, even though I’d already been diagnosed and brought my x-rays with me.
Plan your appointments early in your stay
In the case above, I needed multiple appointments to get treatment. Schedule your appointments early in your stay in case you have to see the doctor a few times.
If you know you’ll need to go more than once, try to schedule both appointments so you’re sure the doctor can fit you in for treatment before your next leg of travel.
Bring a copy/get it in writing
Doctors can be difficult to get a hold of. When you have a special situation, get the follow up steps in writing and a written copy of any diagnosis before you leave the appointment.
If you need to get a test, ask the doctor for the exact code so you’re not getting medical care (and bills) you do not need.
Have a “home” address
Follow up bills will be sent somewhere. Make sure you have a designated place to receive those bills so you don’t affect your credit with missed payments you didn’t know about.
If family is willing to hold your mail, they could be a great “home” address and can keep an eye out for any bills.
Consider your treatment options
Bigger cities often have more health options. If you need a follow up test or treatment, expand your search to include reasonably close cities for more options and possibly price points for your care.
Your healthcare may not cover all markets either. Check providers in your next few travel locations to see what options are available to you.
Proactively make sure your doctor received what they need and confirm next steps with them to keep treatment moving along. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you.
Confirm cost before you accept treatment
When you’re not familiar with a provider, their cost structure might be a surprise.
I scheduled a test with an in-network provider but when I showed up for the appointment, they said it would be 10x more expensive than I expected. $3k for a pretty standard test. When I called insurance, they said the option down the street was only $300 even though they recommended both providers from their in-network site.
Hospitals are more expensive
Getting care from a hospital is more expensive. Look for providers outside of the hospital or keep an extra close eye on cost of the provider or of follow up tests if you choose to get treatment in a hospital.
Keep a digital file of medical information
Keep track of travel shots, test results, abnormal exams. If you have consistent doctors, they will know what they’ve treated you for. If you need to follow up in a new location, however, or have a surprise medical issue while you’re traveling, your new provider will need context about your unique health situation.
Advocate for yourself
If you can’t get the treatment you need, call your insurance and ask them what they can do for you.
For example, when there were no providers in-network at my current stay, I asked the medical provider to send a request for coverage to my insurance so I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket. Your insurance might be willing to flex for your unique situation if you ask them.
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