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What Are The Most Common Medical Emergencies While Traveling?

Common Medical Emergencies
Allianz - Common Medical Emergencies

Nobody expects to get sick or injured on vacation. It’s just not fair, you think. Now? Here? On this trip you’ve been planning for so long?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Of the more than 50,000 calls we receive each year from American Allianz Global Assistance customers, more than 4,000 are from people who are experiencing a medical crisis during their trip. Here are the top four emergencies we see, and here’s how we help.

What are the most common medical emergencies overseas?

All kinds of medical mishaps can happen while traveling: a nasty norovirus, a sprained wrist, a mysterious rash, etc. For travel insurance purposes, we define a medical emergency as a sudden, unexpected illness or injury during your trip that’s either life-threatening or could cause serious and irreparable harm if it isn’t treated. The most common medical emergencies we see in travelers are:

1. Fractures from falls. Fractures frequently occur to the hip, ankle, tibia, and fibia (these are the two bones of the lower leg). Cobblestoned streets are a notorious culprit in causing falls! To reduce your risk, wear comfortable footwear and make sure your travel activities match your fitness level.

2. Cardiovascular problems. Heart attacks and strokes are serious medical emergencies that require prompt care. If you have heart disease or any other chronic conditions, it’s important to pack an ample supply of your medications (at least 30 days’ worth) in your carry-on. In addition, be mindful of your fluid and salt intake, limit alcohol usage and be aware that high altitudes can worsen your symptoms.1

3. Trauma. People tend to worry about catching exotic illnesses overseas, but injuries are the leading preventable cause of death in travelers.2 “Motor vehicle crashes — not crime or terrorism — are the number 1 killer of healthy US citizens living, working, or traveling overseas,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.2 Other causes of trauma include scooter/moped accidents and assault. Always wear a seatbelt, even if you are in the backseat. If you are not comfortable getting in a vehicle, either because of the condition of the car/bus or because something seems off about the driver, trust your instincts and decline the ride.

4. Pulmonary/respiratory problems. One serious pulmonary issue we see is pneumothorax, the medical term for a collection of air or gas in the chest or pleural space that causes part or all of a lung to collapse. Travel writer Brian Major shares the story of the time he suffered pneumothorax after stepping off a flight to Mexico. “It felt as if a balloon had exploded in my chest,” he wrote. Fortunately, his travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance included emergency medical benefits and emergency medical transportation benefits, so he could be flown to Miami for treatment.

How does travel insurance help when you have a medical emergency overseas?

When you experience a medical emergency while traveling, the first thing you should do is call local emergency services. Every country has its own emergency numbers; make sure you know the number to call, or download the free TravelSmart app from Allianz Global Assistance, which includes emergency numbers for every nation.

The very next thing you need to do, if you’re an Allianz Global Assistance customer, is contact our emergency hotline. You can call collect from anywhere in the world: 1-804-281-5700. From the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, call this number toll free: 1-800-654-1908. Or, open the app and hit the button for the TravelSmart hotline.

Your call will be answered immediately by a member of our Assistance team, based in Richmond, Va. While we can’t diagnose you over the phone, your case will be reviewed by members of our medical team: 25 registered nurses and 6 emergency room physicians at the University of Virginia.

Our first concern is to get you to the nearest appropriate medical facility that can treat your condition effectively. Allianz Global Assistance maintains a proprietary database of hospitals around the world, each one ranked from poor to excellent. If you have a serious medical emergency while traveling in a developing nation, we can arrange emergency medical transportation to bring you to a hospital that meets our high standards of care.  The majority of hospitals overseas require payment up front; our team can work to guarantee payment so you can be treated as quickly as possible following a covered injury or illness.

Our Assistance team will continue to monitor your treatment, and when you are stable they will determine what your transport needs are so you can be brought home. Members find comfort in knowing that “their” case manager will provide guidance and reassurance during this difficult time.

What happens if you don’t have travel insurance with emergency medical benefits?

If you get seriously ill or injured overseas and you don’t have travel insurance, unfortunately, you’re on your own. In many countries, hospitals don’t want your health insurance card. “That means nothing to them. They want a credit card,” explains Kimberly Seay, RN, BSN. Seay is the Director of Assistance, USA for Allianz Global Assistance. “If you don’t have enough money on that credit card, there’s a high probability that they’re going to send you to a public hospital.”

How much coverage do you need? That’s a personal choice. Seay has the AllTrips Executive Plan, which covers a traveler for multiple trips over 365 days and includes up to $50,000 in emergency medical benefits. “I want Americans to understand that they need travel insurance,” Seay says. “Unless you have an unlimited amount of money to pay for everything, travel insurance is essential” — and it can even save your life. 

To find the right travel insurance plan, consider your budget, your destination and the amount of coverage you feel comfortable with. Compare plans, get free quotes and in just minutes, you can protect your next adventure. 

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