New environments, new issues
Understanding an employee’s medical history can avoid potentially costly, complex and stressful healthcare-related problems once they are abroad. Knowing if an employee has any pre-existing medical conditions means, with careful planning, illness that could potentially be exacerbated in new environments can be controlled and maintained. For example, an employee with acute asthma is likely to be affected in regions with serious air pollution, such as Beijing in China. One way to deal with this might be not allowing them to travel at rush hour, confirm they have an appropriate supply of inhalers, or perhaps avoid travel to that country altogether.
Comply with the law
Each country’s laws need to be thoroughly understood and followed. Failure to conduct healthcare checks in advance of staff travel could result in a tricky confrontation at customs, removal of critical medication or even prosecution. Some medicines accessible in the UK (such as medicinal cannabis products) may be forbidden abroad, and without access to a prescription an employee could suffer heightened discomfort or be unable to manage an existing condition. Both the employer and employee should know before travel commences whether:
- It is legal to take a prescribed medicine abroad
- The prescribed medicine is available once in the country
- If effective alternatives could be arranged
- Whether a letter from a GP, confirming the need for particular medication is sufficient
Urgent medical care
It’s important that businesses explore the available medical facilities before any of its workforce is stationed in a foreign posting. Emerging markets present exciting business opportunities, but access to quality medical care in these regions can be limited, and if the right facilities are not available it can prove complicated. For example this could resort in an emergency air evacuation - in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, facilities are so restricted a serious illness may require evacuation to Turkey or Western Europe.
If an employee with a pre-existing condition that requires regular healthcare appointments is assigned to a location where suitable facilities are too far away this could make their role there impractical. For employees travelling with their families, especially young children where conditions can deteriorate quickly, it is vital that provisions are in place to support potential urgent healthcare needs, or that an alternative foreign assignment location is chosen for work.
Up-to-date health records
Failure to obtain an accurate picture of a staff member’s current health record could result in - potentially avoidable - emotional and financial stress. It’s important to encourage employees to be open and honest when declaring their current state of health, as hiding conditions can mean cover is invalidated. The terms and conditions for company-organised international private medical insurance (IPMI) differ across various countries, so the more accurate overview of an employee’s health that can be obtained, the better the protection. With the cost of treatment abroad continuing to increase, it can be financially crippling if the right healthcare insurance policy isn’t in place, or even worse, invalid. Recent analysis indicates that major surgery is costing a staggering average of £75,000 in the USA, five times more than Spain. These significant and rising fees in the USA sit above average medical treatment costs worldwide and are a stark reminder to employers to have the relevant policy in place for their workforces travelling abroad. This data explicitly shows how important it is that employers need to ensure they have processes in place to collect up-to-date health records from all their employees.
Avoid a medical situation escalating
Overall, the most crucial point is ensuring that employees have the relevant insurance in place when travelling abroad, only this can provide peace of mind that they are protected should they need medical treatment. Dealing with a medical situation after the event can be both stressful and costly. Businesses can avoid this by ensuring their employees’ medical records are up to date so provisions can be put in place to support a pre-existing health condition. Provisions, such as organising domestic GPs available for video calls can be an invaluable resource and a way of sourcing additional support before employees travel abroad. It is also important to have a robust solution in place in the event of an emergency – such as clear and previously agreed evacuation options. Businesses need to make sure that employees fully understand their duty to disclose their medical history before travelling for work, so appropriate support can be provided if required.
Sarah Dennis, Head of International, Towergate Health & Protection
Sarah Dennis is Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection, which she joined in 2014 following over 17 years working as a consultant and in senior management roles in international health insurance companies including Jelf Group, Norwich Union Healthcare (Aviva UK), HealthCare International, Goodhealth Worldwide Ltd. (Aetna Global Benefits) and RSA.
Winner of the International Intermediary of the Year 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2015 and Highly Commended in 2009, 2012 and 2016, in the Health Insurance & Protection Awards - Sarah is a speaker, committee member and contributor to both global industry conferences and international publications.
Sarah is responsible for corporate international private medical insurance and expatriate cover, and the development of exclusive products for SMEs and expatriate groups.