Medical repatriation at the right time
Table of contents
People who fall ill during a stay abroad often think about booking a medical repatriation to get them home. This is especially true if the healthcare service in the country they are staying in is not as good as in their home country. While many patients in this situation want to return home as soon as possible, others hesitate in making the decision or the processes are delayed by external factors. That's why timely repatriation of the patient can have a decisive influence on the progression of the illness. Here is a description of the most important influencing factors:
Fitness to fly
Most medical repatriations are carried out via ambulance aircraft. This is almost always the fastest and safest method of transport, but every patient transport puts a certain amount of stress on the patient. That's why our flight doctors check in advance whether the patient is fit to fly. For this purpose, they assess the patient’s current medical report and other relevant data. The medical repatriation flight can only be carried out if the patient is considered fit to fly.
However, the assessment of a patient's fitness to fly is only ever a snapshot. When the medical documentation was prepared, the patient was fit to fly. However, if too much time has passed – for example, because the patient or relatives are hesitating about whether the ambulance flight should go ahead – a completely new situation can arise. An already serious illness may get worse to the point where doctors decide that the patient is no longer fit to fly. Then, we are obliged to cancel or postpone the medical repatriation.
Special case: COVID-19
If a patient has become infected with the Coronavirus, the course of the illness is very difficult to predict. Many infected people are initially asymptomatic or show only mild symptoms. In the majority of such cases, this remains so – the body gets to grips with the infection and any symptoms subside.
However, the infection can take a turn for the worse, often following a few days of mild symptoms. In this phase, the patient is often not even undergoing medical treatment but is merely in quarantine. But after seven to ten days, the patient’s condition can deteriorate significantly and hospital treatment becomes necessary – often even in an intensive care unit. Depending on how much additional oxygen the patient needs, an ambulance flight may no longer be possible. This may lead to a situation where a patient who would not even have needed a medical escort a week ago, is suddenly no longer fit to fly.
Getting into rehab quickly
It is not always the patient's actual fitness to fly that causes problems when the patient or relatives have waited too long. Often, after an illness or accident, professional rehabilitation is urgently required, which can best be provided in the patient’s home country. If this rehabilitation treatment is delayed, it can have far-reaching consequences. After a stroke or a femoral neck fracture, for example, timely and competent rehabilitation treatment is an indispensable step in restoring the patient's original mobility as far as possible.
It is therefore highly advisable, after initial treatment in a local hospital, to ensure that the patient is transported back to their home country as soon as possible – at least if the local medical care does not meet expectations.
Delays caused by insurance companies
International health insurance can be an important aid when it comes to medical repatriation. However, in some cases, it can also significantly slow down the repatriation of the patient due to cumbersome bureaucratic processes. Thus, the assessment of a case can take several days, and the patient must remain at their location abroad during this period.
In the case of a severe Coronavirus infection described above, this can even make the timely repatriation of the patient considerably more difficult. As long as the patient has only mild symptoms, many insurers will refuse to cover the costs of the medical repatriation on the grounds that it is not necessary. Only when the illness is so serious that the infected person has to go to a hospital does the insurance company assess the situation differently. However, in particularly severe cases, the patient may quickly become too sick to be transported.
If the insurer's bureaucratic procedures go on for too long, you can choose to initially finance the medical repatriation yourself. You can then submit the invoice to your insurance company and ask for the costs to be reimbursed. Of course, it is impossible to say whether the insurance company will agree to your request.
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