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Seeking care when traveling? Common sense can go a long way

One of Glenn Helman’s clients, a teenager traveling on an international flight from Jackson to Europe, fell ill during a layover in New York and missed his connecting international flight. When the mother called Helman frantically seeking advice, he was able to make arrangements for the young boy to purchase a discounted fare to leave the following day.

“The mother didn’t know what to do, but that’s what we’re here for,” said Helman, president of Corrigan Travel Agency in Jackson.

Helman said the mother was initially concerned that her son suffered from food poisoning on the flight from Jackson. “But if he had gotten sick from it, so would other passengers, so we knew that wasn’t the problem,” he said. “He just had a virus, and he got where he was going a day later and without too much extra cost.”

Because falling ill is so unpredictable, Helman, whose wife is a nurse, recommends travel insurance for his clients, which covers health issues. “This is especially helpful if someone has chronic problems,” he said, noting that “it is not health insurance. Travelers will be reimbursed for their trip, not their medical bills.” Some package insurance programs cover medical costs overseas, including transportation.

When traveling outside the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control recommends contacting the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for a list of local physicians and medical facilities. (Consular officers may also assist in the transfer of funds from the U.S. to cover medical bills.)

“The nicer hotels overseas will have a concierge who can get medical help for guests,” pointed out Helman.

Room service

One unique travel healthcare-type insurance program in the U.S. is InRoomMD, established by Andy Jacobson after his wife fell ill while staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas in April 2003. Within an hour, the concierge had a local physician, company co-founder Dr. Cary P. Logan, drop by the Jacobsons’ room.

“Our objective is to be coast-to-coast in the 40 largest U.S. travel destinations within the next (year),” said Jacobson, whose business has expanded rapidly to metropolitan areas around the South, Northeast and West Coast.

The concept is relatively simple. Vacationers living outside a 100-mile radius of their travel destination may purchase a subscription to the Be Well Travel Health Concierge Program for $28.95 at least 72 hours before their trip. Then, if medical help is needed, program participants receive a callback from a doctor within 15 minutes, and an in-room visit, if necessary, within the hour.

The patient pays a $45 service fee per visit, which also covers generic medications. If the patient requires an emergency room visit, the doctor will call ahead to the company’s partner hospital for the staff to fast-track the patient’s care. Non-subscribers may access the service by paying $299 for a daytime visit and $349 for an after-hours visit, plus medication costs.

“Even if the concierge doesn’t have arrangements with that particular service, they usually have arrangements with some medical group,” said Helman.

Veteran travelers plan for

‘What if…?’ possibilities
Craig Ray, tourism director for Mississippi Development Authority, said when he worked on staff at The White House, the group traveled with military medics. “So I never had to worry about getting sick,” said Ray. “But if I became ill while traveling now, I’d probably call the hotel concierge first.”

Concerns about needing healthcare services when traveling have garnered more attention from business travelers since Atlanta attorney Andrew Speaker boarded a plane to Greece in May despite having a highly drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.

“The best plan of action is to use common sense and remain calm,” said Helman. “If you’re feeling sick before your trip, don’t travel and expose other passengers to a potentially airborne illness. If you get sick en route, stop your trip and catch up a day or two later, stay in your hotel and take care of yourself. The guy traveling with TB … used no common sense whatsoever.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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