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Not just for evacuations: medical and security assistance companies

Often as I help clients strengthen their global risk management and emergency response systems I will remark that their medical/security assistance provider is an ”under-utilized” resource.  And more often than not the reply is something along the lines of: “Yes, isn’t that a good thing?  We haven’t had a medical evacuation in years.”

Unquestionably, having a low incidence of medical evacuations is a good thing.  But the answer highlights an all too common misconception: that medical and security assistance providers are purely reactive resources, standing by and waiting for an evacuation if – or more likely when – needed. The reality is that evacuations only account for a small percentage of cases managed by these assistance providers – less than 1% in the case of Int’l SOS, for example.

In today’s increasingly complex global risk environment, medical and security assistance providers such as International SOS, United Healthcare Global and others can offer a range of services to support travel risk management:

  • Country reports including information on security, medical and other risks in a location are available online 24/7; when a travel-tracking system is used these reports and alerts on developing incidents can be automatically “pushed” to travelers in an impacted location
  • Travel tracking through links with travel agencies or even app based personal tracking
  • Information and guidance on identifying appropriate medical facilities for the full spectrum of care – routine to emergency; coordinating even routine care with an assistance provider can help get appropriate treatment early, hopefully reducing the chance of minor issues escalating to more serious conditions – see this earlier blog post for more general info on managing travel health issues.
  • Guarantees of payment to local facilities for services — essential to access treatment in many parts of the world
  • Bespoke consultations with assistance centers on developments in the risk environment or specific concerns

A recent example of the last point illustrates the trove of practical information available from assistance centers: Following the announcement that the international airport in Abuja, Nigeria would be closed for at least six weeks, several clients called their respective assistance providers to understand the impact on medical evacuation. In addition to reviewing vetted clinics and ambulance services in the Nigerian capital, the assistance centers talked through their procedures and resources for moving patients to the nearest airport – crucial details that enabled organizations to update emergency medical response plans and continue working with the confidence that they were prepared.

And while this post is focused on third party assistance providers – i.e. those that organizations contracted separately from insurance, at a cost – the same principals apply for assistance providers that are “embedded” within insurance policies. Although these embedded resources don’t offer the full depth and breadth of services available through an iSOS or UHC Global, etc, almost all offer country reports, advice on medical facilities, and the ability to call into the assistance center for guidance on a developing situation before it becomes a full blown emergency.

So whether using an assistance provider embedded in an insurance program or a stand-alone, third party provider, it’s important for organizations to take full advantage of the range of options – and not just think of these services as merely evacuation resources.

Which option – third party provider or embedded – is best for a specific organization? That answer depends on a number of factors including volume and complexity of travel…and sounds like a good topic for a future blog post. Stay tuned and travel safe.