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Personal Security Checklist for Traveling Physicians


Unfortunately summer vacation is often accompanied by some unwelcome surprises. Here’s how doctors can plan ahead.

Summer is a time when many physicians and their families get some much-needed rest and recreation. Unfortunately this happy time is often accompanied by some unwelcome surprises. The good news is many of these may be avoided with a little planning and forethought. Here are the top issues you should consider before embarking upon your warm-weather journey: 

Health Insurance and Medical Care

Families face a basic issue of not knowing where to get care when away from home. If you are in the United States it is usually easy: Most smartphones and in-vehicle navigation systems help consumers track the nearest facilities for dining, gas, and medical care in a given location. I’ve used these myself while traveling and once found a hidden urgent-care facility only a mile away!

Before traveling to remote or foreign destinations (especially with infants or vulnerable family members with chronic medical conditions), investigate the care available in a particular area and decide if it will meet your needs. Don’t forget that many drugs we take for granted are not widely available outside the United States or will be replaced with generics and bootleg versions of suspect quality. Plan carefully for required prescriptions and prepare to have a simple way to replace a prescription that is lost, damaged, or stolen in transit. Something as basic as an insulin prescription could make a life-changing difference for a member of your family.

Your health insurance will likely not be accepted outside the United States and many carriers require that you inform them of travel in advance or get additional riders to cover any expenses you actually incur. This means you need to have both high-limit credit cards capable of incurring the costs of emergency treatment and access to cash through a card or bank account as not all medical facilities take credit cards. Finally, consider getting specialty travel insurance that includes not only coverage for treatment itself but the costs of emergency transport home or to a location that can offer skilled critical care. I had a client take his family to an exotic South American destination some years ago and his 13-year-old suffered a horrendous compound fracture while the family was white water rafting. The costs to get the family out alone exceeded $20,000, exclusive of any medical care.

Personal Security and Your Home

If your home is going to be unoccupied for any period of time, be sure to stop mail and newspaper delivery or have it picked up daily. Set timers and remember details like securing pet doors and other possible entries to the home that you don’t think about when you’re at home. Make sure your fire/burglar alarm company has an emergency contact who will not be on the trip (most people list only themselves and their spouse) and who can check on the home and handle any issues that might come up while you are gone.

Another growing exposure is one we create ourselves. All those photos of your friends at the beach you’ve been seeing on Facebook? So has everyone else. Instruct your family, and particularly teenage children, to avoid posting things like pictures, travel details, and departure and arrival dates; it’s the “official schedule” of when your home and vehicles will be available. Instead, suggest they send private messages to friends and create and post an edited album of what they need to share when you are safely home.

Financial Security

Most of us carry much more that we need to in our wallets. Limit what you carry to as few cards as possible (pay them before you leave; they need to work) and avoid carrying things like your social security card that could be used to steal your identity. Write down the phone numbers to the credit cards you do take and keep them separately from the cards in case they are lost or stolen (or even just demagnetized); most carriers have international toll free numbers you can use in an emergency.

Some experts also suggest setting up “text alerts” on your bank account and credit cards for any kind of unusual activity: I think this is a great idea even if you are at home, and nearly every bank and credit card company offers these services free. Be cautious about using Internet connections and public computers while traveling. Avoid logging into your bank account at all if possible and change your passwords immediately upon your return for any accounts you actually logged into from such exposed connections.

Your smartphone has a huge amount of personal information; set up passwords and remote-wipe capabilities and tracking software like iPhone’s “find my phone,” as millions of phones are left behind every year.

Find out more about Ike Devji, JD, and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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