Travelers invest a lot of time into planning a trip—and preparing for the unexpected should be at the top of the list. Before hitting the road, travelers should understand their medevac options and make a plan if they encounter a medical emergency.
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The term “medevac” is not a familiar one to most people—that is, not until someone is injured in a remote location and in need of urgent medical assistance. Ahead of a big trip, travelers spend time planning their trip and plotting their desired experiences—everything from organized tours to water or winter sports—but what happens if they are injured or even fall ill in a foreign location? They may be reliant on medevac services to bring them home.
What is a medevac service?
A medevac service, also known as a medical evacuation service, provides emergency medical transportation services to individuals who need to be transported quickly to a medical facility for specialized care or treatment. This service is often utilized in areas where access to medical facilities is limited, such as in remote locations, disaster zones, or during military operations.
Medevac programs are operated by various organizations, such as the military, hospitals, and private companies. Providers may use various modes of transportation, including helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and ground ambulances, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition and the distance to the medical facility. Global Guardian provides medevac services through its Air Ambulance membership program. If our members are hospitalized from an illness or injury while traveling, we fly them to a hospital of their choice.
How much does medevac service cost?
The cost of a medevac can vary widely depending on several factors, such as the distance of the transport, mode of transport, the level of medical care required, and the location of the patient.
An analysis by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that for privately insured patients “the median price charged by air ambulance providers was about $40,600 for a fixed-wing transport in 2017.” Six years later, prices are higher. As an example, without a Global Guardian Air Ambulance membership, our members would have to pay, on average, $48,000 for a medical evacuation, with the highest cost being $125,000.
At times, patients are hit by surprise medical bills following a medevac. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: “Air ambulance services frequently result in surprise medical bills due to individuals’ inability to select an in-network provider when faced with an urgent medical situation.”
Can a traveler obtain financial coverage for a medevac?
While medevac service entails transporting a patient to a medical facility, medevac coverage refers to a plan or policy that partially or fully covers the transport cost.
In some cases, part of the cost of medevac service may be covered by medical insurance or a government program, while in other cases, the patient or their family may be responsible for the full cost. Credit cards and travel insurance may offer medevac coverage, but it is typically only for transport to the nearest appropriate facility, which could still be far from a patient’s home. This coverage is not as comprehensive as when you purchase a membership directly through a medevac provider.
Purchasing coverage through a provider offsets the full cost of medical evacuation to the hospital of the member’s choice. Annual membership plans typically range from $200 to $1,200 depending on the number of individuals and length or amount of travel.
|Global Guardian’s Air Ambulance membership program ranges from $280 for a Standard plan for individuals traveling less than 90 consecutive days to $1,020 for an Extended Stay membership for families traveling outside their country of residence for more than 90 consecutive days—and covers up to two transports in a year. With one $280 annual membership, a medevac in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars is fully covered.|
Who should consider medevac coverage?
Ultimately, anyone who values peace of mind while they travel should make medical evacuation coverage a top priority before setting off on their journey. While in a foreign location, travelers don’t often know who to call when they are injured or fall sick, but by selecting the appropriate provider, they will have experienced professionals in their corner should the unexpected occur. This is especially important for adventure seekers due to the inherent risks involved with their activities or any traveler visiting regions with limited healthcare infrastructure (more on that below).
Additionally, it is not just leisure travelers who are at risk of falling sick or getting injured. Business travelers, too, face similar risks and should consider medevac coverage.
How to prepare for a medical emergency before traveling
Given the uncertainty that comes with travel, travelers preparing for a foreign trip need to ask themselves if they would want to risk surgery or an extended stay in a foreign hospital in case of an emergency, said Dr. Shelly Weisenfeld, Global Guardian Medical Director. Most travelers, regardless of the medical facilities available in the country in which they are traveling, would prefer to receive treatment in the familiar comfort of their home country.
"Given the uncertainty that comes with travel, travelers preparing for a foreign trip need to ask themselves if they would want to risk surgery or an extended stay in a foreign hospital in case of an emergency."
“It is unrealistic for Western travelers to expect to find the same level of care that they have in their home countries while traveling in another part of the world, especially in a developing or underdeveloped country. The pandemic has added further strain to health care services around the world, pushing some countries past breaking point," said Dr. Weisenfeld.
Before setting out on their journeys, travelers should:
- Review their insurance policies to determine what is covered if they fall sick or are injured while in a foreign country and ensure that they have appropriate coverage. Consider medevac coverage from a direct provider.
- Carry translated copies of important medical records and prescriptions if traveling in a country where a different language is spoken.
- Carry an adequate amount of local currency since most hospitals require that patients, particularly foreigners, make point-of-service payments.
- Be well informed about the medical care and facilities available at their destination by consulting the State Department’s website as well as reputable travel blogs.
Click here for more travel preparation tips from Global Guardian's medical team.
Popular destinations where travelers should consider medevac coverage
Just because a destination is popular does not mean that it has medical infrastructure capable of supporting them in the event of an injury or illness. It is critical, therefore, that travelers have a plan in place to ensure they can access medical care—or be evacuated to a suitable hospital—if they fall sick or are injured while traveling in a foreign country.
From ecotourism in the Dominican Republic; to safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda; to the beaches of Bali, these destinations are regularly featured on lists of travel hot spots. While all these destinations have the ingredients for a memorable trip, the quality of medical care available at each varies, prompting the U.S. State Department to caution travelers visiting certain parts of the world:
The State Department says: “Medical care is available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands. However, serious illnesses or injuries might not be treatable locally. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars in up-front costs. Outer islands have only small clinics, and medical care is limited.”
In Jamaica, “Quality medical care is limited in Jamaica and public health facilities do not meet U.S. standards. Private facilities require large up-front payments even in emergencies.”
In the Dominican Republic, “Public medical clinics lack basic resources and supplies.”
The State Department “strongly” recommends supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.
In Rwanda, ambulance services are “not widely available and training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards; not equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment; and not staffed with trained paramedics and often have little or no medical equipment.” In fact, injured or seriously ill travelers in Rwanda, “may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance,” the State Department advises.
In Kenya, a popular destination for safari thrill seekers, the State Department says “appropriate medical treatment is typically available only in or near the major cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. First responders generally are unable to access areas outside of major cities and to provide urgent medical treatment.” In such instances, medical evacuation to the nearest viable hospital or even back home may be the only option for a sick or injured traveler.
The State Department strongly recommends travelers get “supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation, which can exceed $100,000 per person.”
In Thailand, ambulance services are “not present throughout the country or are unreliable in most areas except for Bangkok and other major cities” and “injured or seriously ill travelers may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.”
Identifying good quality treatment is a challenge in an unfamiliar city; it is an even bigger challenge if the traveler is in a remote area, as is typically the case during exotic vacations.
A significant investment of time and money often goes into preparing for travel. To ensure the best possible outcome of their trip, a traveler should also prepare for the unexpected. Planning for a medical emergency, such as an illness or an injury, and being aware of the state of medical facilities at their destination should be at the top of their travel checklists.
Global Guardian’s Air Ambulance Service
Global Guardian’s Air Ambulance service provides our members with several advantages, including:
- Members can connect to our network of experienced medical and operational professionals who are just a phone call away when needed. Our team is backed by a 24/7 Operations Center and Global Guardian’s vast network of global partners.
- Members are provided bedside-to-bedside service. Comprehensive transportation logistics are arranged so the member doesn’t need to worry about how to get home if they fall sick or are injured. We transport our members to a hospital of their choice to receive treatment and care.
- There is no out-of-pocket cost to members beyond the annual membership fee. This is a huge savings to members given the astronomical fees that can sometimes be tagged on to medevac services.
To learn more, complete the form below or call us at + 1 (703) 566-9463.