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01/12/2011Find an English-speaking doctor abroad
For 50 years, the Canada-based non-profit IAMAT has helped travellers find medical help in English. Could IAMAT improve your health plan?
The International Medical Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers is a non-profit foundation that aims to provide travellers across the world with information and medical care without which they could be putting their lives at risk.
Established in 1960, the organisation now has contacts with medical experts in 125 countries worldwide. If you become an IAMAT member, you can enjoy fixed-rate services from participating hospitals, clinics, physicians and specialists.
How IAMAT can help you
The main advantage of the scheme is two-fold: Joining IAMAT means that you can have more options — besides paying extortion-level prices — should you need urgent medical treatment.
Secondly, even if you have access to local health care, you may be more at ease consulting a doctor in English, so there is no fear of being misunderstood.
With IAMAT, you are directed to medical experts who speak fluent English. Moreover, all have been trained by western medical institutions and are therefore familiar with western practices.
It costs nothing to join IAMAT although the organisation is not shy about asking for a donation.
However this is not the case for certain services, such as a series of 24 individual charts for 60 cities and other pamphlets with in-depth data on sanitary conditions of food, milk and water, local temperatures, advised clothing, tropical diseases, malaria prophylaxis and other tropical diseases and immunisation requirements.
This service is clearly something that has to be paid for, even if the company rhetoric almost makes it sound as if it is for free — "a minimum donation of USD 25 entitles members to receive these charts" states IAMAT's website. What can IAMAT do for you?
Membership card. The card identifies the bearer as an IAMAT member and entitles him to services with participating medical experts at fixed rates.
World directory. The directory of IAMAT physicians guides members to these medical centres and physicians in 125 countries and regions. Telephone numbers are included. Note: IAMAT physicians agree to a set payment schedule for members, referrals, consultations and laboratory procedures, but the cost of hospitalisations and other medical services are not fixed.
Traveller clinical record. A passport-size record that your doctor can complete before you leave home and which will serve as a readily accessible and complete medical history for the foreign doctor. The record includes emergency medical data, glasses prescription, diagnostic summary, and immunizations, plus sections for those with diabetes, a cardio-vascular condition, or allergies.
World immunisation chart. Advice on immunisations and preventative measures for 200 countries and territories for rabies, smallpox, cholera, viral hepatitis, typhus, typhoid fever, yellow fever, diphtheria, polio, plague and tetanus.
World malaria risk chart and protection guide. Assesses the risk of malaria in specific regions and suggests what steps to take before, during and after your stay in the country or territory. The anti-malarial drug chart features names of relevant drugs, manufacturers, generic names, dosages, and frequencies.
World schistosomiasis risk chart and information brochure. These highlight risk areas and outline preventative measures to avoid the disease.
For additional cost: a portable mosquito bed to protect against mosquitoes along with spiders, ticks, beetles, flies, roaches, assassin bugs and bed bugs costs USD 110 plus postage. A set of 24 world climate charts covering 60 cities is USD 25.
Canada-based IAMAT President Assunta Marcolongo says expatriates will find the service highly useful. "IAMAT services are of value to any traveller, including expats. Although IAMAT physicians have agreed to fixed fees for the first consultation, we still suggest that all travellers carry insurance."
IAMAT was founded after the late Italian doctor, Vincenzo Marcolongo, realised that an expatriate patient would most probably have died had she not received treatment based on knowledge of her home country.
A local physician who did not speak English sent a young North American traveller, who was suffering from general weakness and a severe temperature, to Dr. Marcolongo.
The young woman had been travelling around Europe and had taken an aspirin tablet for a headache. Aspirin can, in some cases, destroy the white blood cells of people with a white Anglo-Saxon background. Because the doctor had trained in Canada and spoke English, he was aware of this critical fact. Following a blood transfusion and intensive treatment, the woman fully recovered.
The doctor realized that without his medical training from North America, he would have immediately prescribed the very medicine that was causing the woman's suffering.
He then set about contacting English-speaking doctors all over the world that had received Western medical training. What was originally an informal network has since evolved into the sophisticated scheme IAMAT operates now.
The organisation continues to inspect the clinics, hospitals and physicians' offices around the world that it recommends to travellers and expatriates.
Necessary for expatriates?
Whilst an English-language medical service appears a dream come true for the expatriate community, not all believe the service is necessary.
A spokeswoman for the UK-based Medical Association for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) says "hardly anyone" is concerned about having English-language doctors.
"Millions of people backpack around the world every year, going through such places as India, and they do alright," she says. "Obviously they take insurance, but it's really not a problem about whether the local country speaks English or not."
The spokeswoman suggests that the local embassy can arrange for a translator or an English-speaking doctor and advises expatriates and travellers to contact their embassy before they go abroad.
UK-based freelance journalist Rob Hyde is a regular contributor to Expatica HR. A British national, Rob has lived and worked in England, France, Germany and Austria. His work has appeared in The Times, The Sunday Express and the Wall Street Journal Europe.
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