On a recent visit to Abu Dhabi, my eyes became so dry they felt like raisins under a scorching desert sun.
Unfortunately, it was also a Saturday and most medical practices were closed. But my insurance company offered a telemedicine appointment within minutes.
Telemedicine, which allows a doctor to examine, diagnose and treat you remotely, is one of the biggest trends of the pandemic. Telemedicine use is 38 times higher than pre-Covid, research by McKinsey says And now travel insurance companies are stepping in by offering their policyholders telemedicine services or covering telemedicine visits.
“The pandemic has put telemedicine on the front line for people seeking medical advice and prescription drugs,” said Adrian Leach, CEO of World Travel Protection. “Many health centers and medical support providers have increased their telemedicine capabilities over the past two years.”
The latest company to do so is AIG Travel (Travel Guard). The company just announced an agreement with medical services provider New Frontier Group for international telehealth and pharmacy services for its international travelers. New Frontier will support AIG’s eight global service centers with telemedicine and local prescription services for travelers from the United States, Canada and certain Middle Eastern countries.
Have you ever consulted a doctor via a telemedicine service while traveling? Tell me about your experiences. Please scroll down to leave a comment.
The new telemedicine offerings raise a number of questions for travelers. Below: What type of travel insurance do I need? Should I buy a policy that includes telemedicine services or that covers telemedicine? How do I find a policy with a telemedicine option? And most importantly, how do I use the telemedicine services of travel insurance if needed?
Itchy eyes in the United Arab Emirates
My eye problem shows the challenges of offering telemedicine services abroad. My insurance company, GeoBlue, could offer telemedicine services because the Emirates government accepts prescriptions from American doctors. But that’s not universally true, but telemedicine benefits may be limited if your location doesn’t accept US prescriptions.
“GeoBlue has robust telemedicine services that are available 24/7 to diagnose and even prescribe patients,” said Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance. “Their network of telemedicine doctors is worldwide, so there’s a good chance the doctor can prescribe in the country you’re in.”
GeoBlue’s telemedicine services can only be accessed via the GlobalMD smartphone app. I assumed I could use a desktop application like I did with my previous health insurance company. I finally connected to a doctor. But ultimately I decided that the best solution would be to contact my ophthalmologist in the US and have the drug shipped to my next destination, South Africa.
In the meantime, I found some soothing over-the-counter eye drops. And I stayed out of the sun.
Which travel insurance companies offer telemedicine services?
Travel Guard’s telemedicine network consists of more than ten different providers. So when you call Travel Guard for medical advice, it selects a provider based on your location.
“Telemedicine is a relatively new service from Travel Guard, and as US and international travel continues to recover, we are beginning to see utilization of our telemedicine network,” notes James Page, chief operating officer of AIG Travel.
During the pandemic, World Travel Protection has also partnered with 1800MD and AirDR to expand its telemedicine offering to over 60 countries.
“This included the ability to write prescriptions when needed at their location and help complete medical referrals when specialist assistance is needed,” said Leach, the company’s CEO.
Generali Global Assistance also offers telemedicine through its travel insurance plans. If you are a policyholder, you can access the telemedicine services through a network of US-licensed physicians. They provide information, medical advice and treatment, including prescription drugs, where appropriate and permitted by law. Generali telemedicine can be reached by telephone.
Redpoint Travel Protection offers 24/7 access to an onsite medical team in the event of a medical emergency. “Services include medical evacuation coverage, medical referrals and telemedicine consultations,” said Karisa Cernera, director at Redpoint Resolutions.
Travel Insured International’s travel protection plans include telemedicine services. “This option gives travelers the ability to connect with licensed physicians for medical treatment, advice and even prescriptions when needed,” said Sherry Sutton, vice president of marketing at Travel Insured International.
Which travel insurances also cover telemedicine services?
While some insurance companies may not offer telemedicine services directly, they do cover telemedicine visits. For example, Allianz Travel Insurance, one of the largest insurance companies in the US, covers telemedicine visits during your trip through their policies.
“Our travel assistance team can help assess a customer’s situation and direct them to the nearest appropriate healthcare provider,” said Allianz spokesman Daniel Durazo. “If the customer decides that a telemedicine service is the best option, we will happily reimburse the cost of a covered telemedicine visit under the customer’s emergency medical insurance plan.”
Many other travel insurance companies cover telemedicine visits.
Seven Corners Travel Medical will pay “reasonable and customary” charges up to the limit of coverage for covered illnesses and injuries, including telemedicine. “Our coverage includes health-related services, treatments and other consultations between an insured and a doctor or nurse,” said Angela Borden, product marketing specialist at Seven Corners.
Why telemedicine claims are increasing in travel insurance
Christina Tunnah, general manager for Americas at World Nomads, says her company has noticed a rise in claims related to telemedicine.
“Telemedicine is part of the options for World Nomads travelers who need medical assistance and can often be part of the triage approach,” she says. “For example, it may be useful as part of the advice to a traveler in a non-emergency situation.”
Insubuy, which sells a variety of health and travel insurance through its website, also covers telemedicine.
“Most people want telemedicine as part of their health insurance to facilitate access to healthcare,” explains Narendra Khatri, director of Insubuy. “If you have a bad cold or stomach flu in another country, you don’t want to have to go and be in a doctor’s office unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Advice on using telemedicine with your travel insurance
Using a telemedicine service isn’t as simple as calling your travel insurance company. Experts say there are a few things you need to know before you call. First and perhaps most importantly, read your travel insurance policy to make sure telemedicine is offered or covered. If this is not the case, consult a doctor personally. It’s best to know before You buy your policy.
Know when to use telemedicine
“It’s important to recognize when telemedicine services are appropriate and when it’s more appropriate to call your travel insurance provider’s emergency number,” said Jeff Rolander, director of claims at travel insurance startup Faye Travel Insurance. If you need to go to the ER, don’t call a telemedicine provider; They will just send you to the hospital.
Prepare for your appointment
That’s the advice of Heather Trimm, a full-time traveler and registered nurse. “Make sure you’re somewhere with a strong Wi-Fi connection,” she advises. “Find a quiet place where you can hear your provider clearly and they can hear you clearly.
And be prepared to write down any questions so you don’t forget them.”
Play to the strengths of telemedicine
Telemedicine is ideal for travelers who may face health challenges unique to the travel environment. “When traveling abroad, people are exposed to numerous viruses, bacteria, parasites and insects that they would not normally be exposed to at home,” said Bob Bacheler, chief executive officer of Flying Angels, a medical transportation service. A telemedicine doctor can quickly diagnose the problem remotely, even when no other healthcare professionals are available.
Recovery from Covid? Use telemedicine
That’s the advice of Yvette McQueen, frequent traveler and doctor. “The telemedicine service is a game changer when the traveler is international and becomes Covid positive,” she says. “After five days of isolation and no symptoms, a doctor can make a video visit to issue the traveler a get well letter for return to the US.”
Remember, it’s complicated
When both the patient and doctor are in the US, it is much easier to navigate telemedicine. The doctor must be licensed in the state you are in. “But accessing telemedicine abroad is problematic for a number of reasons,” says Amy Roberts, a frequent traveler and telemedicine user who lives in Park City, Utah. There are issues with billing and refunds, liability, wrongdoing, e-commerce regulation, fraud and abuse, anti-corruption, and global tax compliance. Roberts recommends trying local health care first when you are abroad.
This is the biggest mistake one can make with telemedicine and travel insurance
But perhaps the biggest mistake a traveler can make is ignoring telemedicine options, says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, a provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.
“Medical consultations with paramedics, nurses and doctors via phone and video are an extremely important resource for travelers who are able to receive diagnosis and treatment recommendations on the fly in locations that may lack the adequate resources to provide these services,” he says.
So the next time you buy travel insurance, ask if your policy includes telemedicine or covers a medical consultation with a doctor over the phone or online.
Sure, telemedicine and travel insurance can be complicated and aren’t appropriate for every medical condition. But during a year of travel, it’s a comforting option for travelers.
Have you ever used a telemedicine service during your trip? Please share your experiences in the comments.