October 26, 2000 -- What if you eat too much of the complimentary Halloween candy placed in the lobby of your hotel and develop a terrible tummy ache? What if the ghost of a business dinner past plays havoc with your digestion? Or what if you develop a migraine and can't clear the goblins out of your head before a big business meeting?
Admittedly, the issue of ill health on the road is an unsettling topic. But as all too many business travelers will attest, you can fall ill on the road. And regardless of whether your malady is trivial or serious, it pays to be prepared. The best way to solve an on-the-road medical emergency is to know your options before you go and carry some rudimentary medications with you.
Here's how to prepare yourself.
1. PACK THE BASICS
Your kit bag should always be packed in your carry-on bag and stocked with the basic supplies you may need to ward off the discomforts of everyday life. Start with cold and cough supplies such as antihistamine caplets, a cough suppressant, throat lozenges and decongestant tablets. For fevers and pain, have supplies of ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen tablets and aspirin. For gastrointestinal upset, pack anti-diarrheal tablets. Also consider adding rudimentary first-aid supplies such as bandages, hydrocortisone cream, burn lotion, and disposable antiseptic towels. You can usually purchase travel-sized amounts of these supplies in the sample aisle of your favorite pharmacy. One tip: Don't buy "travel cases" with empty plastic bottles and then fill them with tablets from your home medicine cabinet. Unmarked bottles of drugs draw unwanted attention at airport security checkpoints. Too busy to assembly your own supplies? Purchase pre-packed travel-heath kits from a company such as Harris International (http://www.safetravel.com).
2. CARRY YOUR PERSONAL REQUIREMENTS
If you use prescription medication, you should obviously pack a reasonable supply of those drugs. (Again, make sure the drugs are in marked containers from a pharmacy.) But also make sure to carry copies of the prescription; these will help you refill the supply if you lose or misplace the medicine on the road. If you wear glasses, purchase an eyeglass repair kit, which is sold at pharmacies, supermarkets and eyeglass shops. Carry your eyeglass prescription, too, because you may need an emergency replacement pair.
3. SECURE ACCESS TO YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS
If you're the picture of health, feel free to be a happy (if cautious) wanderer. But if you've got any troublesome medical conditions, arrange in advance to have on-the-road access to your medical records. Discuss your options with your doctor. It may be as simple as wearing a medical bracelet or carrying a treatment card--or it may as complicated as carrying a copy of all your records with you. By the way, many doctors and hospitals now cooperate in plans that make your medical history available on Web sites. If they do, make sure you carry a copy of the appropriate passwords and URLs.
4. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Getting a sense of the who, what and where of health care in a strange city is easier than ever thanks to the World Wide Web. There is a cornucopia of on-line information available concerning health facilities around the nation. For example, DoctorDirectory.com lists doctors by community and specialty. And the "City Health Profiles" at Highway to Health offers emergency health information in the form of telephone numbers, hospitals and pharmacies.
5. GETTING HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
All this preparedness may be for naught when you're struck by a mystery ailment and need immediate help. The traditional route--calling a hotel's front desk for assistance--still works. But if the hotel can't recommend a doctor, call Express Doctors (800-324-8922); they claim they'll send a physician anywhere within an hour. And, once again, the Web has altered the landscape: Cyberdocs.com offers on-line consultations via its Web site and a telephone connection. Should worse comes to worst and you need an emergency medical evacuation, try CareFlight.com, an air-ambulance service.
6. CONSIDER BUYING TRAVEL INSURANCE
One final consideration: If you are self-employed or work for a small business, you may not have all the travel insurance you need. Americans most often lack emergency medical evacuation coverage, an incredibly costly service if you need to purchase it under duress at the time of a crisis. If you need this coverage, try the Travelerís Emergency Network (http://www.tenweb.com/). It offers year-round travel protection for prices as low as $69 a year.