How to Choose A Hospital When You're Overseas

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How do you know a foreign hospital is safe? Will you be getting quality care for your injury or illness? We show you what to look for in a hospital when you're traveling.


Hospital overseas Photo © GettyImages/Ryan McVay

You thought that lunch you ate smelt funny. Unfortunately, that thought is two hours too late, and now you're curled up in the toilet, inventing a new guttural language. 

Suddenly, a new fear strikes you; you're in a foreign country, alone, and you need a hospital.

What do you need to know? What should you look out for? Here are nine tips our experts recommend when choosing the right hospital.

Choosing the Best Hospital

If you're being admitted as an emergency, or taken by ambulance, you often won't have much choice in where you go. However, if you can exercise choice, it's important to select the best hospital for you – does it have the right services (eg a CT scanner), is it clean, can the staff speak your language, etc?

Tell Your Travel Insurer

Let your insurer know you have been admitted as soon as possible, to ensure you are covered for all treatments you receive. If you can let them know before you get to the hospital, they may be able to point you to the best facility in town.

Standards of Medical Care

Hospitals don't have the same standards of care everywhere. Depending on which country you are in, and whether you are in a big city or in a rural area, hospitals can differ greatly. Many developed countries will have a government regulation committee that will inspect all hospitals to make sure there is a minimum standard of care, while others may be completely unregulated.

Generally speaking, hospitals in developing countries have less regulation and lower standards than those in developed nations. Sub-saharan Africa is notorious for its underfunded and understaffed institutions, and parts of South America have poor legacies regarding the state of healthcare. However, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent have some of the best hospitals in the world; it's all a matter of choosing the right place.

Private vs Public Hospitals

Private hospitals are generally as good as public hospitals and, in many places, often better. Private hospitals tend to have better funding and can, therefore, afford better equipment and facilities. You may also have a better chance of finding medical staff who speak English.

Public hospitals may offer a range of services that private ones don't, including intensive care units, emergency cardiac interventions and a wider range of staff for paramedical services such as physiotherapy and radiology.

Is the Hospital Clean?

As a general rule of thumb, cleanliness is a good indicator of the level of safety in a hospital. Word of mouth is also a good way of gauging a hospital's reputation. If you are covered by a reliable insurer, its emergency assistance teams should have the experience and knowledge of quality hospitals globally.

Ask Questions

Don't be afraid to ask questions that may seem difficult – it's important that you know what is happening to you, and instead of being offended, medical staff have a duty of care to ensure you are kept up to speed with what's going on.

Give the Right Information

You will be asked for your demographic details (age, gender, next of kin etc) and your medical history. It's a good idea to carry a list of previous operations, illnesses and treatments you may have had with you, along with a list of medications and allergies. You will also be asked about how you are going to pay for treatment. Without insurance, it can be expensive, so make sure you're covered and you can give the hospital staff the contact details for your insurer which should then be able to settle your bills.

Take a First Aid Kit

An emergency medical kit always comes in handy, but what you can do with one is limited. Kits should ideally contain basic painkillers, antiseptic, anti-diarrhea and rehydration preparations, bandages and plasters. Customs and prescription laws restrict the amount you can carry around with you.

For any worrying conditions, it's always best to seek expert medical advice – things can be picked up before they develop into major problems and sometimes you need a doctor to give you medications you cannot otherwise access.

If you take any medications, eg insulin, it's essential to keep an adequate supply and to keep stores in two separate bags in case one is lost. Also, if you are anaphylactic, don't forget to take adrenaline with you, and give your traveling companion instructions on how to use it. Always carry a doctor's letter to outline what medications you are taking, dosage and medical reason.

Use Your Common Sense

The biggest problems that travelers face is dehydration and gastro related illnesses such as traveler's diarrhea while on the road. Avoiding these can be as easy as exercising some common sense health precautions.

Dehydration is easily counteracted by drinking plenty of clean water daily and if needed, electrolytes whether a Gatorade or water-soluble form. Maintaining good personal hygiene is paramount when traveling and being vigilant about what you are choosing to eat and drink, the cleanliness of the place you are eating at whether a cafe or street food helps.

Make sure you're adequately medically insured so your bills are paid, and you'll have support to help you through your health crisis.

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  • Rich Tucker said

    Great Post!<br><br>Being in contact with your Travel Insurance Provider is very important during medical situations. Top Travel Insurance Providers are familiar with most countries medical facilities and can give you advice on which hospitial to go to, whether or not it is best to come home, and they can help find the transportation home. This is assuming that while traveling you were wise and purchased travel insurance.<br><br>Rich Tucker


  • charms of china said

    taking you own first aid kit is best basic advice. luckily after traveling before (without one) i thought id throw one together. time in china has seen me use several treatments of antibiotics from stomach problems to bronchitus and sinisitus and about half the pain killers i brought with me. i have also visited a doctors here which was useless due to language constraints and general difference in understanding of patient privacy (it doesnt exist here). so again having picked up leaflets on things to watch out for (any good travel vaccince or medical clinic in your home country should have them) used my medical kit for trating a uti also. basically its been indispensible for me and i highly recomend taking one!


  • Arthur DeMarco said

    As I've traveled the world, I've always wondered where I would go if there was a tragedy. After reading this article I feel more prepared to choose a hospital if I need one. If I'm going to be staying in an area for a long time I think I'll even go to local hospitals in person and check them out. I agree with you, cleanliness is the most important factor in choosing a hospital.


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