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Finding a Doctor When You’re on Vacation


Sometimes, when you get sick on vacation it’s obvious what you need to do. Your condition is either not serious at all and only needs a trip to the local drug store, or it’s an emergency and 9-1-1 is your only option. But when your situation falls somewhere in the middle, what’s the best thing to do?

First, the easiest part
The first thing you should do is call your doctor at home for advice and for a referral to a local doctor. If your doctor isn’t available (probably on vacation, just like you), you can try your health insurance plan, which can refer you to a local doctor and also tell you what is and isn’t covered.

If you’re staying in a hotel
If you’re staying in an upscale hotel, there’s a good chance the hotel has an arrangement with a local doctor or two to be available at all times. But most people don’t stay in upscale hotels. In those cases, your first option is to ask at the desk if there are any doctors they would recommend. 

Some hotels worry about lawsuits and are reluctant to recommend a doctor. But they often will provide you with a list of local doctors or suggest a medical clinic nearby.

If you’re staying at a highly popular tourist destination, like Disney World, Hawaii, etc., there’s a chance that there’s a hotel doctor who makes “house calls,” but this is the least likely scenario for most travelers.

If a hotel can’t help you
If you’re not staying in a hotel, or if the hotel can’t help you, the phone book is the next place to go. Your best bet is to find what’s called an “urgent care center.” These are usually less expensive than hospital emergency departments. You can usually walk in without an appointment or get a same day appointment. Urgent care centers may be found under listings for physicians or hospitals. You could also check the white pages for names that begin with “urgent.”

What if you get sick outside the U.S.?
If you need a doctor in a foreign country, the U.S. embassy there should be able to help. You can find the embassy of the country you’re visiting by clicking on the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs .

Once you’ve found the embassy page you’re looking for, click on the link that says “American Citizen Services” or something similar. You may find a listing of hospitals and doctors there. If not, you can call or visit the embassy.

The “wait and see” approach probably not the best
Whatever you do, don’t wait and see whether your symptoms get better. It’s one thing to do that at home, when you know it’s easy to get in touch with a doctor. When you’re out of town, things take longer, so don’t wait around.

Before you go…
Be sure to pack your doctor’s telephone number and your health plan information.  Make sure you’re prepared to pay up front for any treatment you get (credit cards are usually accepted).

New York Times, 17 November 2002.
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