How To Prepare For A Hospital Stay Abroad — Just In Case

May 29, 2014

Mandy Evans was just two days into her three-week vacation in the United Kingdom when it happened: searing pain in her abdomen at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night.

She stuck it out as long as she could, but by 5 a.m., the front desk of her hotel put her in a cab to St. Thomas’ Hospital in Central London. She was diagnosed with a gallbladder infection, and admitted to a ninth floor room.

“On the plus side, I ended up with views of Parliament and the London Eye (ferris wheel),” Evans said.

It was an inauspicious start to a long-planned holiday, and it’s an experience shared by countless travelers around the globe.

You Can Prepare

“I’ve been probably in 20 hospitals in 20 different countries in the last 20 years,” said KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley. He leads tours across the globe, and sometimes travelers fall ill.

If you’re headed to places with less infrastructure, you might look at medevac and travel insurance to help you get to medical care quickly. Brumley recommends SquareMouth, which will match you up with a number of providers.

“You put your age in, where you’re going, how long you’re going for, how much your trip is going to cost, and they’ll send it out to different providers and you’ll be able to get the best quote possible.”

There’s a catch: You need to purchase travel insurance between two weeks and 30 days after you purchase your trip – not the date of travel.

Brumley tried it with a trip to Europe. He’s 49 years old, spending a week in Italy that will cost approximately $5,000 to fulfill. His quote for insurance was $175.

One other thing to remember: Expect a pricier plan — maybe an extra $100 — if you have pre-existing conditions, but you likely won’t be denied coverage. Of course, it varies by provider.

People Care

Brumley says no matter where you are, you’re likely to get decent care — or at least compassion.

He recently spent some time in a Havana hospital with one of his travelers who fell ill.

“They hardly have many modern devices, but the care this gentleman received was outstanding,” Brumley said. “These doctors in Havana, who we have no legal or diplomatic ties to,  got on the phone and called GroupHealth in Seattle, to talk to his doctors directly about his conditions.”

Lessons Learned

Back in London, Evans spent about 24 hours in hospital. She said she was billed at the rate the hospital would charge the government if she were a citizen. The total was less than half of similar services in the United States. And, by the time her American insurance was done with its share, she ended up paying about 25 percent of what she would pay back home for similar service.

Evans said her only difficulty was communicating with the doctors. Even though everyone spoke English, there were enough differences in British healthcare to cause some confusion. Evans realized if she had fallen ill in a place where she had no language skills, it would have been a much scarier experience.

She was back on her feet in a couple days. The worst part, she said, was the doctor's strict instructions when she was discharged: 

“No fat,” Evans said. “As I’m in London to go look at scones.”

Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" explores all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B, what to do once there, and in between. 

And, full disclosure: Mandy Evans is a friend of reporter Ed Ronco, who she graciously agreed to tell her story. She’s fine now, and fully able to enjoy scones again.