Falling Ill Abroad when You Don’t Speak the Local Language

Many of us have been there at one time or another; falling ill in a country where we don’t speak the language. This, of course, poses a series of problems depending on how ill you are. In most cases you will probably be fine in a day or two after having had some rest, fluids, and perhaps some painkillers, however, if you need to see a medical professional things can get complicated. Language barriers can be stressful at the best of times, but when you’re not feeling your best they can seem insurmountable.

Luckily there are ways around this problem, for instance you could conduct an online search in order to find English-speaking doctors in Seville, if you are in Spain that is. Before presenting possible solutions, perhaps it’d be a good idea to go over a few of the most common issues you might experience when falling ill abroad in a non-English speaking country.

5 common hurdles when seeking medical care abroad

1. Understanding how it all works

Encountering language barriers while traveling is always frustrating but most of the time the issue at hand will have something to do with ordering food or asking for directions. When it comes to your health, the stakes are much higher. You simply can’t afford there to be any misunderstandings and the translations need to be flawless. What you really need is to find a doctor that speaks proficient English in order for you to feel safe and well taken care of.

By conducting a search online, you will most likely be able to find English-speaking doctors in your immediate surroundings. There are also lots of helpful blogs about how to seek medical assistance in different cities directed at foreigners.

2. Explaining your symptoms

Once you arrive at a clinic, hospital or pharmacy you may encounter the next issue. Even if you have managed to find a medical facility with an English speaking doctor, they may not be the first person you encounter. Try and use online translation services so that you can make yourself understood, explain your symptoms, and most importantly, ask for a doctor that speaks English. If you are struggling to read a translation, you can always show them your phone: it’s not a perfect solution, but in an emergency top-quality medical translation is not always at your fingertips.

3. Payment

Unfortunately, the challenges don’t necessarily end after you’ve been treated: there’s the question of payment. Understanding the different payment systems in each country is another common issue when falling ill abroad. It’s great to travel but one of the first things you should always make yourself acquainted with is how the healthcare system works with your own insurances. This way you will at least know a little about what you might expect.

Here again, an online translator will come in handy unless you have the opportunity to ask another member of the medical staff, provided they speak English, of course.

4. How to approach aftercare

Depending upon how your doctor’s visit pans out, it’s likely that you will receive some instructions regarding your aftercare. If you are to stay at the hospital, there will hopefully be medical staff available that speaks some English, however, if you are released with information on how to continue your treatment, you need to make sure that you understand all of the instructions that are provided. Ask the doctor to provide substantial explanations as well as what to do if you start feeling worse. Once you have established rapport with the doctor, make use of it and ask all and any questions you might have.

5. Medication

The final common issue that you might face when falling ill abroad is the question of medication. If you are prescribed medication, make sure you know why you should be taking it, how you should be taking it and most importantly, what you should do if you experience any side effects. If you can’t get a translation of medical instructions from the clinic, make sure you consult with your doctor before leaving. Don’t forget to ensure you know how to go about getting hold of your medication; the system may differ greatly from your own country.

Familiarize yourself with different healthcare systems

Don’t be afraid to go on your next journey, wherever it may lead. Instead, take precautions such as familiarizing yourself with the local healthcare system. Regardless if you are taking a trip to Buenos Aires, Seoul or Munich, remember it is always best to be prepared. Luckily you are able to find the answer to most questions online. The most common issues mentioned here are by no means an exhaustive list but a good indicator as to why you should always be prepared.

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