Eliot C. Heher, MD
Here are five tips to help make your business travel healthier.
Slow the Pace Down. Traveling is stressful, even when everything goes smoothly. International travel can mean a struggle even with the simplest tasks like finding a restroom or making a phone call. Jet lag doesn’t help. Of course, business travel can be particularly exhausting, even domestically. So try to slow down. Shorten a trip, plan some down-time during your trip, even cancel a trip in favor of a conference call. You’ll be amazed how much fatigue and stress can limit your effectiveness. Slowing down your pace might increase your productivity, even as you decrease your stress.
Do some simple research. Instead of waiting for an incident, learn a little about the travel health situation in the destinations you plan to visit. What health risks await you in Bangkok, London or Las Vegas? What hospital would you use in the event of an emergency? How would you find a doctor? How would you describe your medical condition in the local language? This kind of basic homework is particularly important if you’re traveling internationally, where you should also check into security issues. HTH Worldwide, Inc. offers a number of resources for free on the www.hthtravelinsurance.com website (other resources, called Global Health and Safety, are available when you enroll in one of HTH’s plans). Other good sources of information are the CDC and the U.S. State Department.
Buy Travel Insurance. Talk to your benefits administrator or manager about your company’s health coverage for traveling employees. Your managed care plan might be adequate at home, but it probably provides little or no coverage when you’re away. In addition, it’s unlikely that your company’s plan includes medical evacuation or assistance services, which help arrange evacuation with a creditable air-ambulance company. If your company’s arrangements in this area are inadequate, consider purchasing, or requesting that the company purchase on your behalf, a supplemental policy. Call customer service at 866-874-7226.
See your Doctor and Dentist. Like the television ad says, you’re supposed to change your motor oil every 3,500 miles, but do you? Or do you push it? Many people are the same way with routine medical and dental care. The annual physical becomes a five year pilgrimage. Just as you took your car in for coolant, tire pressure checks and an oil change before the family’s summer vacation, take yourself into the doctor and dentist sometime this fall. Get all the basics–blood pressure, cholesterol, prostate screen, mammogram etc. Tell the doctor you do alot of traveling–he or she might suggest Hepatitis A and B vaccines. Don’t be afraid of what they find in their screening test–in these days of diagnostic wizardry every adult has something that needs to be looked after (do you know anyone who doesn’t?). The good news is that the problems doctors look for are almost always easier to handle the earlier they’re discovered.
Be sure to have a dental examination as well, to get those marginal teeth straightened out. As reluctant as you might be to do so, remember how unpleasant it is to lose a night of sleep on an important business trip because of a horrendous toothache.
Safeguard your travel documents. Make copies. Keep track of your immunizations. Remember to leave a copy of your travel itinerary at home and with your neighbors. Keep your passport in a safe place (e.g. a safe deposit box) when you’re not using it. Keep a record of your travelers checks and credit cards and write down the numbers of the three credit bureaus you must contact in the event one of your cards is stolen (contacting the credit card company is not enough). The three are: (1) Equifax 800.685.1111, (2) Experian 888.397.3742, (3) Trans Union 800.916.8800 (please note: 800 numbers usually don’t work from overseas).
Bonus Tip. Five seemed like a nice round number but here’s a sixth one:
Pack a basic first aid kit and take it with you–or add some basic health items to your travel dopp kit. Remember that drugs names are different in different countries so you may have difficulty finding a product you trust if you’re traveling internationally — the HTH Drug Translation Guide, available to TravelersClub members, can help you find what you’re looking for. For basic business travel, I’d bring along an agent for minor aches, pains and fever (acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for example). Also bring diphenhydramine (Benadryl)–you might not be allergic to anything but there’s always a first time, and it is also an excellent sleep aid for many people. Bring Dramamine or Meclizine for motion sickness and something for an acid stomach or heartburn–Maalox, TUMS or something similar. For international travel, especially to developing countries, the list of medications you should carry is longer and includes some prescription medicines you’ll need from your doctor. More on this in a later article.