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Expatriate Travel Health

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Understanding Healthcare in Your Host Country
-- Frank Gillingham, MD

Visit CityHealth Profiles -- health risk
and vaccination information (and more)
for over 500 destinations.

Expatriates need working knowledge of the health insurance system and the hospitals in the host city and country, just as they have for their own home country and city. As a Physician in Germany explains:
"The health care system in the host country is absolutely mandatory to know in its basic organization." HTH Ophthalmologist, Munich, Germany.

Here are the key issues:

  • What hospitals are preferred, for routine care and for trauma or emergencies (the answer may be different for each)?

  • Are both private and public hospitals available and, if so, what's the difference in quality of care and the availability of services. In the words of a physician in Brussels, "Private and public do not mean good and bad."
Emergency Access
  • What are the emergency telephone numbers to obtain ambulance, fire and other assistance such as poison control.

  • Can these numbers can be relied upon: 
    "Emergency numbers do exist in Sao Paulo, but, except for the Fire Department, you should not count too much on them in moments of need..." HTH General Surgeon, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • Can ambulances and other emergency personnel be trusted? In some parts of the world it's faster and more reliable to take a cab to the hospital than an ambulance.
Pharmacy Basics Eventually everyone on overseas assignment requires a headache remedy, decongestant or sunscreen, so basic knowledge about pharmacies is necessary. Key issues:
  • Hours of operation (and how to find one open late). 24 hour a day pharmacies exist very infrequently outside the U.S.

  • The reliability of their products

  • The trustworthiness of their personnel.
A physician Brazil explained why this last point is so important:
"In a 'Farmacia' there are normally a handful of persons who...are totally unqualified to give you any health-related advice and who...feel absolutely free to suggest that you buy medicines different from those prescribed by your physician (because on some medicines they have a wider profit margin)." HTH General Surgeon, Sao Paulo.