How to See a Doctor While Traveling Out of Your Network

see a doctor while traveling_white and tan hospital roomThe worst has happened. You’re on a trip when suddenly you aren’t feeling well, you take a fall, or something happens that makes you think, “I need to see a doctor stat.” It’s intimidating enough trying to find a doctor on your own turf, much less far from home.

But don’t fear. It’s possible to keep everything straightforward and simple, and hopefully get you back on your feet enjoying your vacation in no time. Read on for everything you need to know before you start your trip, the easiest way to see a doctor while traveling, and how to be sure you’re not stuck with a giant bill.

Before You Leave

First things first (although if you’re reading this it might be too late), you should consider getting travel health insurance. This is especially useful if you have a recurring condition that might require medical care while traveling or if you’re the kind of traveler who just wants total peace of mind. Your regular health insurance has some coverage while you’re traveling, but it won’t cover expenses like changing flights home, extending hotel stays, or any of the other ballooning costs that come up in an emergency away from home. A good travel health insurance plan will bridge that gap, and it will also connect you to English-speaking, insurance-covered doctors wherever you’re traveling, 24/7.

Start by asking your health insurance provider how they cover out-of-network medical expenses and if they offer travel plans you can purchase for your trip. If they don’t, do some shopping around and request quotes from other travel insurance providers to find the best deal and coverage for your needs. Some reputable ones that provide travel health insurance include Travelex Insurance, John Hancock, IMG Global, Allianz Travel, and GeoBlue.

It’s important to note that not all travel insurance plans include health care coverage or emergency medical assistance. Read over the coverage details carefully and make sure you choose a travel insurance plan that covers costs associated with health care.

Here are some questions to ask your health insurance provider before your trip—whether you’re considering travel health insurance or not. If you don’t purchase additional travel insurance, it’ll be important to know how you can get help covering out-of-network costs after the fact. 

  • Are there in-network care options in the place where I’m traveling?
  • If not, what does my financial responsibility look like?
  • Am I able to submit claims for out-of-network or foreign care expenses?
  • What information do I need to submit a claim?
  • In what situations are medical expenses covered, and in what situations am I responsible? (Some insurance plans will provide coverage “in case of emergency.” It’s important to know exactly what constitutes an “emergency.”)
  • Do you cover emergency transportation back to a U.S. hospital?
  • Do I need pre-authorization or a second opinion before getting medical care?
  • Are there any activities that are considered dangerous that require additional coverage?

Finding a Doctor While Traveling in the U.S

If it isn’t an emergency, it’s a good idea to call your insurance before you go to the hospital or set up an appointment. There might be hoops you need to jump through like pre-authorization or going to urgent instead of an emergency room that could save you a lot of money and a lot of hassle. Of course, if it’s an emergency take care of your health first.

  • First, look on your health insurance provider’s website or give them a call. They’ll let you know if there are any in-network providers in your area or what extra costs you’ll incur to see an out-of-network physician.
  • If you’re in the U.S., websites like ZocDoc and HealthGrades are great resources for quickly finding reviews on doctors you’re considering. Searching the doctor’s full name and title in Google will likely pull up some reviews or news articles so you can be sure there aren’t any red flags. Review websites often have a rating for the doctor’s scheduling flexibility, which is something to look for if you need an appointment right away.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your hotel or ask a local for a recommendation. They might know which urgent care facility is the least crowded or which doctor you can reach on a Saturday.

How to See a Doctor While Traveling Abroad

If you’re in a foreign country and need medical attention, here are our tips for finding the help you need:

  • If you’re not in the U.S., especially if you don’t speak the language, it’s a good idea to ask your hotel for help. They can refer you to the closest hospitals and doctors and help arrange transportation to get you there.
  • The International Society of Travel Medicine and the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers are helpful resources for finding English-speaking doctors and researching your health problems. We now have access to online translators and technology that makes it easier to communicate across language, but making sure your doctor fully understands your concerns is top priority. If there’s any doctor who speaks English or hospitals that have translators, that is almost certainly your best route.
  • The Department of State is also a useful resource. They have information that can connect you to an embassy, a list of doctors, medical evacuation, and more.
  • In case of a true medical emergency, keep this list of foreign emergency numbers handy to call an ambulance if necessary.

Don’t Get Stuck with a Huge Bill

Once you’ve found your doctor, there are some things to pay attention to while receiving care. These tips will make sure you get as much covered by health insurance as possible and you receive the medical attention you need.

  • Many health insurance companies will view emergency care inside the U.S. as in-network, even if technically you’re out of network. This is very helpful, but check your billing code to make sure the doctor is submitting the claim as an emergency visit. If your doctor doesn’t label it an emergency, you could get charged for something that should have been covered.
  • Be sure to get receipts or statements for every part of your care. These should say you paid in full and include the doctor’s name, their tax ID number (TIN), your diagnosis, and the care you received. This is vital for submitting claims to your insurance provider.
  • Don’t be afraid to push back on your health insurance company after the fact. If you feel something should have been covered that wasn’t or you were told something would be covered and you were charged for it anyway, you have the right to negotiate with your health insurance company. This article gives a little more information about what to watch out for and how to negotiate.

We hope your travels go smoothly and that you won’t need to seek medical attention while away from home. But, life happens, and we hope that if you do need to see a doctor while traveling, you’ll receive the adequate care you need.