What would you do if you became ill while traveling and have to see doctor who doesn’t know you or go to a hospital you have never been to before? What if you have a medical condition that needs to be considered in case you have an accident or get sick? Should healthcare providers be aware of any medications that you take or of any allergies that you may have? Will you be able to effectively communicate your important medical information should you become ill or injured while traveling?
Being safe and healthy while traveling should be a top priority for everyone. That’s why it is important to always bring your personal health information with you no matter where you are. Basic facts about your health could assist healthcare providers when they are treating you and can limit any avoidable mistakes. Think about it – having important detailed information readily available is helpful when relaying information about your health to a new provider. So it makes sense that anyone who becomes ill or injured when traveling should have his or her personal health information in case a healthcare provider needs to be seen or should your regular doctor not be in the office. By carrying your personal health information with you additional lab tests or other procedures may not be necessary. What if you are traveling to a country where you and healthcare providers do not speak the same language? It is a good idea to have it written down.
What is Personal Health Information?
Personal health information is important information about you that can help you get the care you need, the way you need it. Personal health information generally refers to medical history, test and laboratory results and other data that is to be shared with a healthcare professional so that he or she has the necessary information to determine the most appropriate care.
What Information Should You Include?
According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) the personal health information you carry with you when you travel should include:
- Emergency contact information – this should be someone who is not traveling with you
- List of your doctors and their contact information
- List of medical conditions for which you are receiving treatment or managing
- Any past medical conditions that are relevant
- Medication lists and the doses you take – including prescription and over-the-counter medicines
- Allergies – this should include allergies to any food or drug
- Any other information that might help in case of an emergency
Another consideration is to be sure that you have information about your health insurance. This is important to carry with you especially if traveling within the US. If traveling outside of the US, you may want to look into your healthcare insurance options abroad.
While your healthcare team can help you determine what should be included in your personal health information, it is ultimately up to you to ensure that it has the information that is necessary to help in emergency situations. For example, it can include information that your doctor or pharmacist may not be aware of, such as your exercise routine or your dietary habit. Having a list of vaccinations that you received along with the dates of administration can help, especially when traveling to a country where certain immunizations are required.
Sharing Your Personal Health Information with Family and Friends
While you should always carry your personal health information with you, there are times when it is appropriate to share it with a family member or a friend. You should be the one to make the decision as to who you share or don’t share your personal health information with. Let your preferences be known to the nurses and doctors who are treating you. This way your healthcare team will share only relevant information with the person you trust to help you make decisions about your healthcare. This person can also provide your personal health information in the event you cannot so let them know where you keep it.
How Should You Store Your Personal Health Information?
Having this information available does not mean you have to keep a bulky, extensive copy of your medical file with you. There are many different ways you can store this information in a practical and convenient way, such as:
- An app for your cell phone
- On a USB flash drive which can be plugged into any computer
- In a web based application
- A laminated card
Also be sure to make a clearly visible ICE (in case of emergency) notification in your contact list on your cell phone.
Making your personal health information available is an important step in ensuring your safety while away from home. So before you worry about how many carry-ons you should bring, be ready for the road ahead by ensuring that you are carrying your personal health information. Your life may depend on it.
Vera Rulon, MS, RHIT, was the Director of Strategic Communications within Pfizer Medical.