How to find a doctor abroad: non-profit organisation IAMAT has helped travellers and expats find English-speaking doctors abroad for 50 years. See how their doctor search works.
Established in 1960, the organisation now has contacts with medical experts in more than 80 countries worldwide. If you become an IAMAT member, you can enjoy fixed-rate services from participating hospitals, clinics, physicians and specialists. Below explains what to do if you need to find a doctor abroad, and how IAMAT’s doctor search works.
How IAMAT can help you find a doctor abroad
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.
Doctor search costs
It costs nothing to join IAMAT and find a doctor, although the organisation is not shy about asking for a donation.
They provide a series of city profiles 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.
While the company rhetoric makes it sound as if it is for free, in some cases a ‘donation’ may be required to unlock certain services.
How does IAMAT’s doctor search work?
The card identifies the bearer as an IAMAT member and entitles them to services with participating English-speaking medical experts at fixed rates, up to a maximum USD 100.
The directory of IAMAT physicians guides members to find a doctor or medical centre in more than 80 countries and 300 cities. Telephone numbers are included in the doctor finder. 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. When you find a doctor abroad or medical centre, ask first what costs are involved.
Traveller clinical record
This is 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 after you find a doctor abroad. The record includes emergency medical data, glasses prescription, diagnostic summary and immunisations, plus sections for those with diabetes, a cardio-vascular condition or allergies. After finding a doctor, make sure you take this record with you.
World immunisation chart
IAMAT provides advice on immunisations and preventative measures for global countries and territories for issues such as rabies, smallpox, cholera, viral hepatitis, typhus, typhoid fever, yellow fever, diphtheria, polio, plague and tetanus.
World malaria risk chart and protection guide
You can assess the risk of malaria in specific regions and get advice on 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.
Canada-based IAMAT President Assunta Marcolongo says expatriates will find the service highly useful if they need to find a doctor or travel information. “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.” Once you find a doctor, check with your insurer if you can claim a reimbursement.
History: the idea behind the doctor search
What was the catalyst for creating an English-language doctor finder and travel information? 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 doctor 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 realised that without his medical training from abroad, 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, including their doctor search tool to find a doctor abroad.
The organisation continues to inspect the clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices around the world that it recommends to travellers and expatriates who use their services to find a doctor or medical centre.
Doctor search: Necessary for expatriates?
While an English-language medical service appears a dream come true for the expatriate community, not all believe the doctor search 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 when they find a doctor.
“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 also arrange for a translator or help them find a doctor who speaks English and advises expatriates and travellers to contact their embassy before they go abroad.
Health insurance to cover doctor costs abroad
Of course, you will need to be covered with an appropriate health insurance plan to be treated by doctors in most countries. You can access emergency treatment in most places without insurance but you will then be hit with a (possibly sizeable) bill. Usually, you will be asked for proof of adequate health insurance to enter the country so it makes sense to sort out an insurance plan.
Expats working abroad may be covered by a public health insurance scheme. Travellers, temporary visitors and those not covered by public health insurance will need to purchase private health insurance. There are many private insurers to choose from. Some of the largest international health insurance companies which provide coverage to expats and travellers include:
Other ways to find a doctor abroad
Today there are many online doctor search sites to help you find a doctor abroad. By doing an online search, you can choose which doctor finder appeals to you.
There are also institutions that maintain health information to help expats find a doctor or get other medical attention or information:
- US embassies and consulates post lists of English-speaking doctors and medical services for cities around the world. To find a doctor, first find the US embassy or consulate in the country where you are.
- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a guide to find a doctor abroad.
- The European Union explains the process of finding a doctor and going to a hospital abroad.
- International Society of Travel Medicine has a online medical directory to help you find a doctor or other medical service, plus medical and travel information for members.
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