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Don’t let illness spoil your perfect holiday – book an online doctor

There’s nothing worse than falling ill while away from home. Along with the worry of the cost of visiting a doctor and getting treatment, being poorly can put a real dampener on your trip.

In this article, we’ll look at a new service that gets you the medical help you need quickly, without the hassle of finding it or covering the costs yourself. And we’ll look at common reasons people seek non-emergency medical help abroad, and how to prevent or alleviate them.

Woman holding up mobile phone, showing a doctor on the screen

The pitfalls of falling ill abroad

Most of the time, most of us go about our daily lives without the unpleasant experience of falling ill and having to seek medical help. Thankfully, the situation’s the same on our travels, with relatively few of us getting ill or injured while on holiday.

This might explain why a recent Post Office survey* of 2,005 online consumers found only 4 in 10 (43%) consumers consider the chance of illness overseas compared with 54% worrying about their luggage going missing.

But illness and injury can still happen and, if you’re away from home, it can be an unnerving experience. From language barriers to medication being unavailable or being taken to an expensive private hospital when you don’t necessarily need to go, there are many situations that can be stressful. Having someone to call for quick non-emergency medical support could be a great relief.

Knowing where to get help can be difficult, too. Our survey found 55% of holidaymakers would go to the hotel receptionist as their first point of call if they needed a doctor. But there’s no guarantee the advice or suggestions provided would be right for the circumstances.

Fortunately, the new Medical Assistance Plus service provided by Post Office and powered by Air Doctor is here to help. Now you can enjoy your holiday safe in confidence knowing health professionals and the help you need are just one click away.

What is Medical Assistance Plus?

Medical Assistance Plus is a triage system for non-emergency, outpatient medical support. It’s included as standard with all Post Office Single-trip Travel Insurance, Annual Multi-trip Travel Insurance and Backpacker Travel Insurance policies bought from 3 July 2023 onwards.

Our outpatient service provides access to the medical support you need without the stress of having to find it yourself. Any charges you incur getting help are covered by your Post Office Travel Insurance policy, no matter what type or level of cover you have with us.^^

The Air Doctor global network has over 20,000 doctors in 75 countries, catering to a wide range of languages. So you’ll always be able find one locally who speaks either your native tongue or one in which you’re comfortable receiving a consultation.

Enjoy your travels but be ready for the unexpected

How does Medical Assistance Plus work?

Now finding a doctor abroad is quick and easy. They’re just a click away and available 24/7. However, please be aware this service is not available for travel within the UK (please see our Limitations and exclusions section below).^

Simply select the Medical Assistance Plus link, and the service will geo-locate your position. You’ll be offered a list of medical practitioners available nearby, and times to arrange your consultation. You can choose to speak to the doctor via video-link, at your hotel or in-clinic, all at a time to suit you.

If you require medication, the doctor will be able to arrange for your prescription to be sent to a local pharmacy, ensuring they have the stock to meet your needs. Although all consultation costs are covered by Medical Assistance Plus, you may have to pay for some prescriptions issued (please see our Limitations and exclusions section).^^

And rest assured that, if you need more urgent care, your case will be handed on to our emergency medical team. They’ll make all the arrangements for your transfer to hospital as quickly as possible.

Lounging woman in hat and sunglasses looking at her phone

Avoiding illness and injury abroad

Top five health issues experienced by UK citizens abroad

Of course, the ideal scenario on holiday is to avoid illness or injury altogether. So how can you help reduce the chances of them happening or, if they do, ease their impact?

We’ve looked at the most common conditions respondents in our survey said they’d sought medical assistance for**. And we’ve provided some preventative and remedial tips to help you avoid or overcome them.

1. Upset tummy/food poisoning

While usually not serious, stomach upsets can really cramp your style on holiday – nobody wants to be stuck in the bathroom day and night.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid drinking local water and stick to the bottled kind. Remember that ice cubes are more likely to be made from tap water, and salad leaves may also have traces of water on them too.

And if your diet is usually fairly plain, be aware that rich or spicy new cuisines can cause tummy troubles too. Be sure to pack antacids in your suitcase if you’re prone to indigestion or heartburn.

2. Insect bites and stings

Most insect bites aren’t serious and clear up in a few days. But some can cause allergic reactions, and in some parts of the globe, carry the risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Zika virus.

Depending on where you’re planning to holiday, getting a vaccination or course of tablets from your doctor is the best way to prevent serious illness from insect bites. A great resource to check before you travel is the NHS Fit for Travel website, packed full of information on worldwide destinations.

Prevention is always better than cure, so to try and avoid being bitten in areas where these viruses are a risk. Cover up with long sleeves and long trousers, especially after sunset. Use insect repellents on exposed skin, and sleep under a mosquito net, or get a mosquito repellent plug-in.

3. Fever

Fever can be distressing, but thankfully is rarely serious. You may have picked up a bug during your travels, or it could be the after-effects of sunburn or heatstroke.

The best way to a speedy recovery is to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Water is best, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can cause further dehydration. Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down your temperature and remove extra layers unless you’re experiencing chills.

4. Sun burn/heat rash

Getting sunburn or heat rash can make life on holiday miserable, but neither are usually serious. There are some easy steps you can take to avoid both happening to you while you’re away.

The easiest way to prevent sunburn is to follow the Aussie rules of ‘slip, slap, slop’ – slip on loose, light clothing, slap on a wide-brimmed hat and slop on plenty of SPF30+ broad spectrum sunscreen. Don’t miss out those easy-to-forget spots like the tops of your ears, back of the neck and tops of your feet. An SPF30+ lip balm is also a handy way to get quick protection.

To get the best out of your sun protection, apply 20 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply every couple of hours – or more regularly if you’re in and out of the pool or sea. It’s a good idea to seek out shade when the sun’s at its highest point, typically 11am to 3pm.

Heat rash, or prickly heat, is especially common in high heat and humidity regions, and can be extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully, with a few exceptions, it gets better on its own within a few days. You can help to reduce the chances of getting prickly heat by wearing loose cotton clothing and using lightweight bedding.

To lessen the effects of both sunburn and heat rash, there are some simple tips to follow:

  • take a cool, but not cold, bath or shower
  • apply cool, wet cloths to the skin
  • keep hydrated with plenty of water
  • add moisture to the skin with aloe vera gel
  • treat inflammation and temperature with hydrocortisone cream, paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • try and keep out of the sun as further exposure can make the symptoms worse

5. Minor trips, scrapes and falls

Slippery poolsides, unfamiliar surroundings and being dazzled by the bright sunshine can lead to unexpected trips and scrapes.

Take time to familiarise yourself with the lay of the land, so you can spy out any hazards. Try not to walk and take photos at the same time, and always wear appropriate footwear for every situation.

Knowledge is power

It’s good to know that Medical Assistance Plus has your back whenever you’re away. Especially as our survey found that one in ten consumers (10%) said not being able to easily access medical support has negatively impacted their holidays in the past.

It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with local healthcare information for your destination before you go. And if vaccinations or medicines are advised for your next port of call, it pays to find out even further in advance of your travels.

Here are a few websites that can help you plan for your next foreign trip:

Safe and fun travels

Mostly importantly of all, enjoy your holiday. With a little research, a few handy tips and our comprehensive travel insurance policies, your holiday is sure to be a breeze.

Make sure you’re covered for all eventualities

About our survey

*In May 2023, we asked 2,005 online consumers representative of the UK population about what they worry about when they travel abroad. More specifically, we asked if they worry about falling ill or getting injured while on holiday, if they’d experienced this and if it had been difficult to get medical support.

** Top five health issues experienced by UK citizens abroad survey breakdown as follows:

  1. Upset tummy/food poisoning – 31%
  2. Insect bites and stings – 20%
  3. Fever – 19%
  4. Sun burn/heat rash – 18%
  5. Minor trips, scrapes and falls – 16%

Limitations and exclusions

^This service is not available for trips taken in the UK, only for international travel. The service allows up to 3 separate medical events per policy and for each medical event up to 3 appointments per person listed on the policy

^^All appointment charges are covered by your travel insurance policy

You will not need to pay any excess fees for this service

For any online appointments or where the appointment was held at your accommodation, where a prescription is issued, you will need to pay for any medication and claim upon your return home

No excess will be applied for any prescription charges

If your appointment takes place at a clinic and they have a dispensing chemist, you will not need to pay for your prescription and all charges will be covered by your policy at the point of appointment

If there is no dispensing chemist at the clinic, you will either be given a prescription, or the prescription will be sent to a chemist by the treating Doctor and you will need to pay for any medication and claim upon your return home

If your medical situation needs to be handed over from an outpatient case to an inpatient case and requires hospital admission, you will be handed over to our emergency medical assistance team in the UK. For any inpatient cases, no excess will be applicable

Travel insurance to suit all needs

  • Single-trip cover

    Offering cover for anything from a short UK break to a year of travelling around the world.

    Perfect for short or long trips for anywhere in the UK or abroad

  • Annual Multi-trip cover

    Travelling more than once this year? An Annual Multi-trip policy could save you time and money.

    Covers you for multiple trips for a 12-month period

  • Backpacker cover

    Aged 18 to 60 and looking for a gap year, career break or to travel the world? We could have the cover you're looking for.

    Covers you for one trip up to 18 months