Travel survival guide - what to do if you’re injured while abroad
Safe to say, having travel insurance will ensure that even if you hit a snag in your travel plans, specifically with an injury, help is at hand.
Don’t fret though – with the right preparations and steps, you can minimise the financial impact. If you’ve just been hurt while abroad, here are the immediate steps to take.
Contact your insurer
If possible, always contact your insurer before choosing the medical facility you use. This is because some insurers have an approved list of clinics, which you must use if you want to make a claim. Insurers may also have preferred medical facilities, which are familiar with their claims procedure (this helps your claim to be processed faster).
If you need dental work (e.g. you broke several teeth during a car accident), ascertain if this is covered by your policy before visiting the dentist. Note that not all forms of dental treatment are claimable; you might want to return to Singapore to get dental treatment.
Wherever you’re going, always register your trip with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). This ensures local authorities know where you are during an emergency situation. More importantly, the local embassy will be able to contact your family if you are hospitalised and unable to communicate.
Highlight any drug allergies or pre-existing conditions to the doctors
The clinics and hospitals abroad won’t have your medical files. It’s up to you to inform them of any allergies or pre-existing conditions you suffer from. This is pretty serious because in an emergency, where time is of the essence, doctors will have to react quickly. But in their rush to save your life, a lack of knowledge about your allergies could complicate matters, and you might end up in a worse situation. Or worse, if you suffer from complex issues such as arrhythmia or anaemia, the doctors might not catch it till it’s too late.
If you aren’t too sure of how to convey your medical history, you should put the doctors in touch with your family’s General Practitioner (GP) back in Singapore. Ask the hospital or clinic for an email address, so that your GP can send them your medical history.
Get the required medical documents
Retain all the medical documents given to you. It may not be enough to just have a bill and a receipt from the clinic – your insurer can give you the exact list of documents they need.
If you cannot read the documents due to a foreign language, then take pictures and send them to the insurer. Have the claims officer confirm that it’s the correct document before you leave the hospital.
Always buy comprehensive travel insurance. Check the terms and conditions to make sure you’re covered for the following:
- Medical evacuation and repatriation (ideally, look for policies which has unlimited pay-out for medical evacuation)
- Overseas medical expenses
- Coverage for follow-up treatments back home
- Personal Accident coverage
Be sure to check that any sporting activities you’re participating in are covered. For example, some travel insurance policies don’t cover bungee jumping, whereas insurers like FWD have policies that do.
Contact family and friends, and update them on the situation
Obviously, you’ll want to assure your family or close friends that you’re safe. Thus, you should call home and update them about the situation.
Give them the details of the hospital you’re staying in, as well as when you’re likely to come home. Your family can act as a liaison with your insurance company, if you’re not in good shape to talk and file claims.
Some travel insurance policies provide an allowance for family members to visit if you’re hospitalised. Be sure to check if your insurance allows this.
Get reports and details from relevant sports / activity organisers
If you were at an organised sporting event, or you were under the care of an instructor (e.g. a dive master while Scuba diving), be sure to obtain a written incident report from them.
This will come in useful if you need to prove that the accident wasn’t due to your own negligence. The report also acts as an added layer of affirmation, that the cause of your injury is due to the reasons you claim.
This report is also useful if you intend to pursue legal action later.
Avoid alcohol consumption before highly physical activities. This isn’t just to keep you safe – your insurance policy can be invalidated if it’s determined that you were under the influence of alcohol. For example, if you fall off your bicycle and get injured after having three or four beers, there’s a chance your insurance claim can be rejected.
Consult the doctor on the need for repatriation
If you’re injured, you can’t wait to be home and recover. However, don’t assume every hospital will make the arrangements to send you home once you are fit to travel. They might decide to just put you on crutches or in a wheelchair, and send you out the door.
If you want to go home immediately – and make a claim for repatriation – bring it up with the doctor. Explain your difficulties in coping, so the doctor can make a written suggestion that you be flown home.
Contact your Airbnb host or hotel, and make necessary preparations for your belongings
If you need to be rushed home, or you’re in no shape to carry all your luggage, don’t forget to inform your Airbnb host or hotel. You will probably need to make arrangements to ship some items home – especially if you’re on crutches or in a wheelchair. It can be hard to lug your stuff to the airport, in your given condition.
Contact the airline and destination airport, to make necessary preparations
Before you’re flown home, do remember to call the airline and explain if you’re in a wheelchair, or otherwise impaired by your injury. This will allow them to make preparations, such as readying staff members to wheel you to the plane.
Your family members can make the same requests for help at Changi Airport, to spare you the long trip to the arrival hall.
Nobody wants to be injured, least of all during your holiday. But accidents do happen and it comes when you least expect it.
Simply put, you should always be prepared for unexpected situations. Getting a comprehensive travel insurance is just one of the many ways to be protected.