Corporate Travel Protection: Need to Have it or Nice to Have it?

This trip (one of the many throughout the year) would turn into a nightmare; for the employee abroad and the HR manager at home

A top executive traveling for work in India took a weekend side trip with his wife to an idyllic island nearby. He suddenly fell ill with a fever, nausea and vomiting. Confusion, drowsiness and stupor followed, as well as loss of vision and seizures. A local shopkeeper, who barely spoke English, struggled with the language barrier but was finally able to point them to a local physician. Due to the complexity and severity of the symptoms, the local physician recommended the patient be transferred to a major international hospital on the mainland.

The executive’s wife frantically started searching to secure ambulance transportation services to the international hospital. More than six hours passed before the couple arrived at the hospital, at which point the executive was nearly unconscious and bleeding through his nose and mouth. Using broken English, the emergency physician told the wife that her husband had life-threatening Meningitis, and would require intensive care, additional support for his organs, daily blood transfusions and dialysis. Without access to a second medical opinion or information about the hospital’s ability to provide Western-style intensive care services, the wife reluctantly agreed to proceed with the treatment.

After six weeks in the hospital, the executive was able to return home. Since he was still in a weakened state, his wife again had to arrange ground ambulance service both to the departure airport, as well as upon arrival back home. While medical insurance covered the majority of the in-hospital care, the couple ended up paying for thousands of Euros of medical evacuation and ground ambulance services. This financial cost was in addition to the stress caused to the couple by having to deal with this already trying situation largely on their own.

With more employees traveling overseas in today’s global marketplace, intricate, costly and emotionally distressing medical incidents like this one are on the rise.  While insurance coverage such as medical, disability and life provide some degree of financial protection, their terms and conditions are limited and do not feet the purpose.

It comes as a great surprise when organizations and their employees seemingly take for granted that high quality, Western-style doctors and medical facilities are available around the globe. Unfortunately, the high level of medical care and provider-patient communications that employees experience in the Western world is spotty, at best, in emerging countries and economies.

Terrorist attacks. Political unrest. Epidemics that break out in various parts of the world. These are just a handful of the issues that business travelers can encounter. While these incidents can happen anywhere, the frequency and intensity seem to be more concentrated in emerging countries.

Health care systems, medical insurance, emergency service rules and regulations can vary widely from country to country and offer a dramatically different experience than in Europe or the U.S. Not only can there be language barriers to overcome, but the healthcare system and emergency medical services can be entirely different. For instance, many countries have also a single number to call for emergency services (like 112 in Europe or 911 in the U.S.). But in India, there are 102 different emergency numbers across the 28 states and seven territories.

No matter how experienced an organization and employee may be in overseas travel, it’s virtually impossible to keep up with the intricate details of each country’s health care systems. That’s when the services of a comprehensive travel assistance program are key in providing quality and cost-effective medical care to employees traveling abroad.

An overseas medical crisis is a more manageable scenario with a comprehensive travel assistance program in place:

At 5:00 am in an African country, a traveling executive just woke up in her hotel experiencing chest pain. Her employer, an EU-based company, provides a comprehensive travel assistance program to its employees. The executive has been instructed on how to use its services, if she should experience an incident while traveling abroad. The employee calls the travel assistance program’s 24-hour helpline and speaks with the physician. Although the symptoms are ambiguous, the physician decides to send her to one of the program’s network-affiliated hospitals near by, where excellent care is available.

The hospital appointment is immediately arranged and a car quickly arrives at her hotel to drive her to the facility. At 8:30 am, the program physician calls the hospital for an assessment of the executive’s medical condition. The situation is deemed serious, with heart bypass surgery necessary. Knowing the best hospital for this kind of procedure is located in Johannesburg, South Africa, the travel assistance program’s medical team arranges for an air ambulance, with full intensive care medical support and monitoring equipment, to evacuate the employee.

By 4:45 that afternoon, she is having triple heart bypass surgery at one of the leading heart care hospitals on the continent of Africa. Since the employee’s condition required more than two weeks stay in the hospital, her travel assistance program arranged for her husband to join her in Johannesburg.

This executive was incredibly fortunate. Her company had a comprehensive travel assistance program managing a seamless, fully coordinated suite of services around the globe. The program’s database of global hospitals and clinics with “Western standards of practice” allowed for quick and high-quality medical attention that likely saved her life. Neither she nor the company’s HR staff had to deal with any last minute scrambling, concerning hospital admission or upfront payments. The program also provided around-the-clock monitoring of her medical condition to ensure a successful outcome.

A comprehensive travel assistance program can provide the full spectrum of assistance for medical emergencies, including emergency medical referrals, medical evacuation, if local facilities are not able to provide care comparable to western medical standards and medical repatriation once the traveler is well enough to return home. 24/7 support is available, including medical case management experts to guide the care decisions.

While assistance for medically based emergencies for sick or injured travelers is often the cornerstone of a travel assistance program, there are many other challenges a traveler can face that warrant support. As such, travel assistance programs can often provide other services such as:

  • Travel services for family members or a companion traveling with an employee, including transportation for travel home, and an attendant for a child who cannot travel alone.
  • Security evacuation assistance and support in times of political unrest or terrorist situations.
  • Travel services (lost ticket and document replacement, emergency advance of funds, lost baggage assistance, translation and interpretation help, emergency messaging).
  • Information services (basic travel information such as passport and visa information, cultural information, weather information, inoculation and immunization information, travel advisories).
  • Legal services (legal referral, advance of bail).

Comprehensive travel assistance programs provide critical assistance for employees traveling across the country or around the world at very reasonable cost.

Corporate travel should be all about success and gain; not about distress, fear, and pain.

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