Picture yourself arriving at an unfamiliar airport. You exit the plane and head for baggage claim. As you stroll through the terminal a family members says they are not feeling well. A hand on the forehead confirms a burning fever.
The realization hits you in the pit of your stomach. You are a long way from the security of your usual doctor and local hospital. What do you do? Go by cab to the nearest hospital? Call 911? Rent a car and drive the three hours to grandma's house? What was that antibiotic your loved one was allergic to anyhow? In an instant your pleasant vacation trip has been transformed into a potentially life-threatening disaster. This was not a part of your game plan.
The two keys to maximizing your traveling safety are: being prepared with medical history and contact info for all traveling and knowing where to look for the best medical help.
Information on the best local medical care is available if you know where to look. Information booths at many airports can also direct you to a local hospital or clinic. A call to your own doctor may get you a local referral, but if you cannot reach your personal physician, online physicians are now available for timely advice. In a real emergency, calling 911 in most parts of the country (including airports and travel terminals) will get you immediate assistance.
Once you have reached medical help, information typically found on your medical record is of paramount importance. Does the patient have any significant medical problems, allergies to drugs, medical devices, previously abnormal laboratory values or tests (such as an EKG)? This information can often be of immense value to the physician in facilitating diagnosis and treatment. At times it can even be lifesaving. Other useful data, such as medical insurance information, the family doctor's name and phone number, advance directives or medical power of attorney, aids measurably in convenience of care and decision-making.
In the digital age the best repository for this kind of medical data is the Internet. Information stored on a secure server, accessible only with an authorized password, is safe yet available 24 hours a day, virtually anywhere in the world, at the speed of light. Your personal online "vault" can serve as a storage place not only for your medical records, but for important documents such as your passport, living will, medical power of attorney, or permission for treatment of minors or wards.
In this age of uncertainty, any person who travels should be prepared for an emergency. Failure to plan can be quite literally a plan for failure.
Mark L. Friedman MD FACEP FACP is an emergency physician working to revolutionize the delivery of health care.