10 May Why It Can Be Better To Get Medical Treatment Abroad
This is a guest post from Dorene and Troy of Travel Life Experiences. They escaped the safety net of their secure yet unfulfilling 20-year corporate careers to redesign life on their own terms. They share their experiences on changing their lives into a debt-free and location-independent lifestyle.
You planned a trip for months: a visit to a new country. The first week, you had the time of your life, but during the second week you got sick – the instant travel enjoyment killer – and your worst-case scenario comes true. You need some medical assistance, but seeking it out is a scary thought. Questions hit your mind, like: “Will this care be as good as those at home?” Or “What if I can’t communicate with the doctor correctly?”
These are all common concerns, and when you progress to long-term travel, like what we did, these fears become even more heightened.
We’ve had our share of medical emergencies while traveling over the years, complimented by our own tried and tested health remedies. Now that we are into full-time traveling, we need to plan for regular health visits such as medical checkups, dental visits, and annual eye exams as preventive measures.
Note that travel medical insurance covers emergencies and not regular health maintenance.
Despite all these scenarios, we would like to dispel concerns about medical treatments in foreign countries. In fact, we often have had better treatment abroad than back home in Canada.
Here’s what we learned during our various medical visits around the world:
1. You can find ways to communicate to medical staff, even though you can’t speak their language.
We visited Indonesia and Panama last year, and Vietnam a few years ago. In all instances, we received good quality care at reasonable prices at hospitals and clinics.
The language barrier was a challenge, however, as we needed to find the right terminology. But we have learned a few ways to surpass this difficulty.
A) Document your symptoms on paper in advance. Look up your symptoms on Google Translate or through a Language Dictionary and write them down. Even if you can’t pronounce them correctly, you have the written spelling as back up. You don’t need to have complete sentences to communicate. Sometimes, just a few words are enough to get you through. Also, Google Translate has such excellent tools to communicate your message in text or audio if you have Wi-Fi access.
B) Ask for someone in the clinic who can speak a little English. Sometimes just a short facilitation in English can help with communication. It’s surprising how common it is to find someone who knows at least a little English, even when you don’t expect it. But this isn’t something you can always rely on. Moreover, there is medical terminology that is also consistent in English and other languages. For example, I discovered that Vertigo, a problem I have with dizziness and ear infections, is the same word in Spanish.
C) In some countries, it’s common for doctors to study in the United States or Europe, and then they return home to practice. So perhaps there is a little English in his/her vocabulary to bridge communication gaps. We met many travelers who mentioned the same experience with such doctors, and you may just get lucky.
Of course, language barriers are challenging and frustrating, but when your health is on the line, it’s worth making an effort. (And often this makes for an excellent travel story.)
D) Use Body Language. If you feel pain, simply pointing to that part of your body that is suffering is already invaluable. For example, in Panama, I was able to show how I felt dizzy and that my head was spinning, or when I injured my knee in Indonesia, I was able to point out where the pain was isolated.
2. Quality and Cost of Healthcare can be better than home.
This seems surprising, but many (even developing) countries have even better quality healthcare (quality + price) than what you may have back home. It’s important to note that it may not always be public health care, but private health care facilities that can provide a significant increase in quality at still a lower cost than the same services in your home country. According to World Health Organization’s (WHO) rankings of the best healthcare in the world: Canada rated 30 in the world, and the United States rated 37. Countries like Colombia, where we were recently living, is ranked 22. This ranking is not surprising to us since some of our friends have also shared their positive experiences with excellent healthcare in this country.
Examples of excellent service quality that we received on our travels:
A) Dental: Troy and I completed a dental cleaning in Panama. It was a complete cleaning service, including fluoride treatments and a full dental check-up in a very modern office that you would expect in Canada or the United States. The service cost us only $50 USD. The dental forms were only in Spanish. However, we used the Google Translate app on our phone through the camera reading option to translate and complete the forms. The dentist was educated in the United States, so communication was easy.
B) Medical: We visited clinics in Indonesia and Panama for various ailments. We received advice from travelers and expats where the best clinics could be found.
We visited clean, familiar clinics and hospitals that look similar to those at home and we received excellent care. We paid $20 US for treatment in Panama and $50 US in Indonesia. Our doctors were English speaking, and even despite their accents, the medical terms they used were similar to English. We were relieved and surprised how our visit to the clinic was easier than we expected.
C) Lab Tests: Given that we are traveling full time, we decided to get a routine check up from a doctor in Panama. We visited a doctor and went to the lab to run our test results. We were so surprised the lab was a state-of-the-art facility that could rival anywhere we have seen in the western world. Additionally, our doctor scheduled a free results discussion with each of us. In fact, our test results were emailed to us by the clinic within 3 hours of our visit. We paid $100 for this service, which we know is inexpensive for any non-health care patient in Canada or the United States.
D) New Glasses and Eye Examinations: Troy received a full eye exam and updated the lenses for his glasses in Panama. With his basic Spanish, he was able to confirm his needs. Eye readings are universal, so this was easier than we anticipated. He paid $90 U.S. for updated lenses. We believe that if we shopped around, we could have received the same service at an even lower price.
E) Drug prescriptions: In several countries, pharmacists can administer drugs without a prescription. Taking the same Google translate tactics we did during our medical visit, it was possible to get help for various ailments despite the language barrier. We have used this tactic in Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand. It may also be quite shocking how low the cost of medicine is in other countries. To find your current prescriptions, this is a little trickier. Often drugs have different brand names but are copied from the original product (generic brands). I encountered this situation in Vietnam. I was given medications I wasn’t familiar with. So I researched online to discover more details about the product, the dosage, and other information. I was able to confirm that what I was taking was truly for what was ailing me. After that research, I felt more comfortable. Doing this research gave me peace of mind when I needed validation.
So, healthcare needs while traveling can never be planned, but with a little bit of research, it is possible to take the risk, for the sake of your health.
If you don’t have your health, how can you live a more fulfilling life?
Have you been surprised by a positive medical or dental experience in a foreign country? We’d love to hear about it.
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