How to deal with medical emergencies when abroad

Low Kiang Wei, medical director of International SOS, shares five tips that business travellers should take note of when met with medical emergencies in unfamiliar environments.


Every year, International SOS receives 4.1 million calls from our clients all over the world, requesting for assistance and advice on different medical situations and/or security situations before and during their business trips.

This can range from non-urgent ailments to critical emergency cases, and is often exacerbated by the lack of knowledge on what to do in these situations.

Low: some due diligence will go a long way in helping travellers who encounter medical emergencies while on the road

Based on data collected from our 26 global assistance centres, we found that medical advice cases have increased by nearly half. Most significantly, the number of cases where emergency evacuation and/or repatriation has been prevented has risen by 10 per cent, which demonstrates how prevention helps to avoid costly emergencies.

While it is important to obtain travel insurance and understand the scope of coverage, we recommend five other best practices that business travellers should note before their trips, to stay prepared for the hidden dangers of medical emergencies during their travels.

Be aware of your own medical history
The first and most vital step for business travellers is to undergo a thorough medical examination by physicians. A physician can detect pre-existing medical conditions which may be potentially exacerbated by varying conditions during the trip, and help you to mitigate these risks by arranging for the required vaccinations, medication, and emergency protocols.

Assess the most suitable medical options to provide specialised care
When you consider existing medical care options, this does not just involve researching the most reputable or the nearest facilities. Some hospitals differ with specialised medical and nursing staff and medical equipment, and may be more equipped to handle certain emergencies. You must also consider the accessibility of the hospitals to the locus of activities during your trip, especially in population-dense environments where road travel is often hindered by the sheer number of vehicles, extending journeys for hours on end.

Research the health risks of a destination to know your potential exposure
All travellers should refer to current health advisories issued by their governments and travel assistance partners before the trip so that they can keep abreast of any current or potential outbreaks. There may be vaccinations or prophylaxis that the traveller can take prior to the trip, to directly minimise the health risk. During the trip, there are usually simple non-medical measures that the individual can take to mitigate the risk of contracting any infective diseases as well.

Understand the permitted medication you can bring into your destination
One major concern that travellers have is running out of medication, particularly if they have a chronic condition. Pharmaceutical regulations can vary from destination to destination, so if you have medication to bring, keep to the permitted amount so that there will be no complications when you enter. To further reduce any hassle, carry relevant documents to certify usage and avoid any miscommunication.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
Before leaving home, know who is responsible for protecting you and how you can easily reach them if you are caught in a medical incident. Take note of the contact information and address for your embassy or consulate.

Business travellers can be equipped with the capability to share their locations and access immediate medical advice and assistance anytime and anywhere with the help of companies like International SOS. Such visibility is critical particularly during an incident where it is imperative within the golden hour to know who is safe, and who else needs help most.

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