What could be worse than getting sick on vacation? For jet-set entrepreneurs, it's getting sick while travelling on business.
There's the cost of missed business opportunities, and, if you're uninsured, there's also the astronomical cost of treatment.
"A couple of days in a U.S. hospital could easily cost $40,000," says Melanie Carter, manager of training and marketing at Travel Professionals International, a network of travel consultants, in Manitoba. "And business travellers are very often at higher risk because they're so go, go, go. They just keep working and don't take care of themselves."
That's doctor's order No. 1: Take care of yourself. But also take certain steps in advance to make illness less painful.
First, if you're taking prescription medication, be sure to pack it in your carry-on, not your checked luggage, to avoid getting separated from it if your bag doesn't make it to your destination. "It's also a good idea to bring more than just enough for the duration of the trip," says Ms. Carter. And be sure to carry drugs in their original bottle to avoid any questions from customs.
For non-prescription drugs, it's prudent to pack medicine cabinet staples, such as Tylenol and Tums. "In a foreign country, it's not always easy to get that stuff," says Ms. Carter. "You can't easily find Nyquil in Delhi."
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If you have any pre-existing conditions, Ms. Carter recommends you carry a doctor's note that explains them and contains a full list of prescriptions.
She also suggests forking over the cash for travel insurance, even if you're just leaving the province. "Even within Canada some treatments are not covered by certain provincial health plans," she says. "It's something people overlook, but thinking about purchasing health insurance when travelling to another province is a good idea."
The best way to approach insurance is to first investigate what kind of coverage your employer's health plan offers, says George Small, co-founder of Toronto-based Kanetix, an online service that compares insurance quotes, including travel insurance.
"[You may have]partial coverage through your employer, and in that case may want to cover areas not included," he says. "For example, if they don't have trip cancellation as part of their plan, you may want to purchase that separately."
Work isn't the only place you may have coverage. A spouse's employer policy, for example, may offer coverage. So might the credit card you used to purchase the flight.
But be aware of limitations, no matter what the source of coverage, says Ms. Carter. "They need to find out if that insurance will cover pre-existing conditions, if it covers every country, how many days it covers." It's also worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the policy before travelling and find out what the maximum coverage and deductible amounts are, says Mr. Small.
If you are going to purchase your own travel insurance, the first step should be thinking about how frequently you travel. "You may want to consider something that covers multiple trips, rather than just a single trip," says Mr. Small.
Whether you're covered through work or a plan you've purchased yourself, don't leave home without your policy number, he adds.
Ms. Carter suggests leaving your policy number with someone at home so that if you misplace it while travelling you can easily access it.
Also crucial is carrying the insurer's toll-free phone number. "That's the number you need to call immediately if you get sick," she says, adding that this obviously does not apply to true emergencies. "Some may not cover 100 per cent of the claim if you do not call them before seeking medical attention."
Contacting the insurer first means you don't have to spend time looking for a doctor yourself. The insurer will direct you to the nearest hospital or, in some cases, even send a doctor to your hotel room. "They also have English-speaking doctors," she says.
A big plus to working through an insurance provider's recommended doctor is that you often won't have to pay their fee yourself, says Ms. Carter. "And in many cases the treatment you get will actually be better because they know they're going to get paid."
If you're travelling without insurance and become ill, your options for care are more limited. Ms. Carter recommends starting with your hotel, which will often have an in-house doctor they can send your way, for a fee. Or they can direct you to the nearest medical centre.
No matter how you go about seeking care, get it right away. "Business travellers often make the mistake of not getting help immediately," she says. "They have a day of meetings they don't want to miss. But usually it can get worse before it gets better, so don't delay."