When travelling, either in the county or across the South African borders, one of the most stressful situations a traveller can experience is a medical emergency. Sometimes for those travelling to a foreign country, having medical emergency assistance services can mean the difference between life and death.

This is according to Marcia Le Roux, Head of Medical and Travel at Europ Assistance South Africa, who says while it is not always nice to think about the worst case scenario, it is always better to be prepared and ensure one can receive medical assistance as quickly as possible in the event of an emergency.

As we are entering the festive season, many people are busy planning their holiday trips. “Unfortunately most people may not realise they need to check whether they have medical assistance services in place before they embark on their journey. If they do have medical assistance services in place, it is vital to have the correct contact details on hand to ensure a swift response.”

Le Roux added that most travellers have travel insurance in place through their bank, insurance or credit card provider. “Unbeknown to some, assistance services such as medical assistance are often included as a value added benefit to travel insurance, which means that medical assistance can be rendered to them should they experience a medical emergency while travelling.”

Many people may regard travel insurance as a grudge purchase, but when an emergency occurs this service will prove to be extremely helpful. Le Roux states that accidents can happen anywhere, one can easily fall ill while on vacation and a medical assistance service will be able to facilitate the entire medical process on the traveller’s behalf.

“When in a foreign country, you might not be familiar with the medical structures, how payment will be facilitated and, in some cases, the medical staff might not be very proficient in English. All of this can make even a minor incident become a traumatic experience, so when a very serious medical emergency occurs it can turn out to become extremely stressful,” she explains.

There are unfortunately many things that could go wrong while on an overseas trip, such as food poisoning, getting the flu or contracting a foreign disease, Le Roux says. “The benefits of medical assistance services is that the person will not have to worry about the additional burden of arranging medical help. The service provider will act on behalf of the person to ensure that they get the best possible treatment for their condition – no matter how small or severe. At the end prevention is better than cure.”

In some instances where the medical emergency is so serious that the patient needs evacuation or repatriation back to their home country for further medical care, the entire process will be facilitated and managed by trained and professional medical staff via the appointed assistance provider. “In most medical evacuation or repatriation cases that requires either an air ambulance or a commercial flight, a medical escort will be sent to the location of the patient, no matter where they are in the world, to assess their condition and take care of the patient throughout the journey back home,” explains Le Roux.

She also says that a medical event can heavily affect the person’s travel plans. “The assistance service company will change the person’s flight and accommodation arrangements accordingly to facilitate the new travel requirements.”

“It is an unfortunate reality that accidents can happen while travelling and in these situations it will be extremely helpful to have a medical assistance provider on speed-dial. It is advisable that a traveller contact their travel insurance provider to ascertain to what extent they have travel medical assistance services at their disposal. This exercise should form part of the traveller’s planning ahead of their trip – the same as they would ensure that their passport is in order, they need to understand how their travel insurance works, what it covers and what the assistance services offer,” concludes Le Roux.

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