Eliot C. Heher, MD
Just as a tune-up for the family automobile is a good idea before a long car trip, expatriates and their families should visit their primary physician and dentist prior to leaving on assignment. Here’s what you should accomplish: Screening Tests and Preventive Care. Request that all screening tests that might be performed during the first year or so of your assignment be performed in advance. Such screening might include cholesterol, PSA, colonoscopy, pap tests, mammograms etc. Have your teeth cleaned and get old or broken fillings replaced. An HTH physician in Paris explained what can happen when pre-assignment testing is missed:
“Have your teeth cleaned, and get old or broken fillings replaced.”
“I often see women who are overdue for a Pap test or mammogram….” HTH General Practice Physician, Paris.
Medical Records. Obtain medical records from all the physicians and dentists you see regularly, especially if you’re receiving care other than routine check-ups. A short letter describing your past medical or dental history and current problems, including the treatment you’re receiving, is ideal. Unfortunately, many expatriates forget this this important point, which can frustrate foreign physicians:
“I have yet to come across an expatriate in my practice coming with a written medical history from their doctors in their own country of origin.” HTH General Practice Physician, Hong Kong.
While photocopies of medical records are better than nothing, they can be hard to read. Actual copies of important diagnostic tests (such as EKGs, mammograms and dental x-rays) are often more helpful. Bring two copies of everything, if possible, one for your own records (which should not be surrendered at any time, because of the difficulty of obtaining new originals when living abroad) and one copy for your new primary doctors and dentists.
Another option is to enter a personal medical history on the web using an online service.
Questions during your assignment. Ask your primary doctor if he or she would be willing to consult with you from time to time during your assignment, through phone or email. Be clear that you won’t call for assistance with acute symptoms (that’s what your new primary physician is for — see “Choosing a Physician in the Host Country”) but rather for comment on whether a treatment or diagnostic plan sounds appropriate.