What is Medical Repatriation?

Many people love to travel, whether it’s to escape the snow in cold winter months, visit family and friends in distant lands, or simply to see other parts of the world and experience other cultures. While it is not something that we tend to think of too often, medical emergencies can and do happen even when we travel. The thought of experiencing such an emergency when far from home can be a frightening one. That is where medical repatriation comes in.

Why is Medical Repatriation So Important to Travellers?

The term repatriation refers to the return of something or someone to another country. For example, refugees may be repatriated to their country of origin, and one might hear of the repatriation of profits by foreign investors. Medical repatriation, therefore, is when an individual is returned to their home country following an injury or falling ill. It should not be confused with medical evacuation (medevac) which is appropriate when critical care is needed but not available locally, requiring the patient to be evacuated to the closest suitable facility.

Types of Medical Repatriation

There are different types of medical repatriation available, depending on the needs of the particular situation. Some of the types of medical repatriation include:

Airline Medical Escort

If the needs of the patient are comparatively mild, repatriation may be accomplished through regularly scheduled commercial airline flights, accompanied by an airline medical escort. This provides the patient with the care they need while avoiding the greater expense of other services.

Commercial Airline Repatriation

Bedside-to-bedside care is possible with commercial airline repatriation, with certified professionals providing the care and assistance needed during the return home, ensuring the comfort and safety of the patient.

Airline Stretcher Transport

In cases where more than a simple escort is required, airline stretcher transport may be suitable. With medical repatriation of this sort, a team of professionals handles all of the patient’s needs, while coordinating with the airline medical desk, ground ambulance transfers, and other medical teams. The patient is tended to by members of the air ambulance medevac team, ensuring the highest level of medical care and compassionate support.

Air Ambulance

Unfortunately, there are times when critical care is required throughout the process of repatriation, necessitating the use of air ambulance services. Medically equipped aircraft manned by critical care transport teams are available 24/7 to provide care to those most in need. A diverse fleet of aircraft allows for repatriation during short- or long-range missions for those in life-threatening situations.

Special Missions

Emergencies can happen anywhere, including the most remote regions of the world and hard-to-reach areas such as cruise ships. For these extreme circumstances, Rapid Response and Special Mission teams exist. Tackling the most complex situations, these highly-trained professionals perform their duties in areas where others simply cannot go.

How Does Medical Repatriation Work?

When an emergency arises, it’s important to act in a timely manner, but there are some steps to be followed in repatriation. The process is as follows:

  • When a Canadian is faced with a medical emergency the immediate concern is ensuring that they receive the emergency care they require.
  • Once the patient is stabilized and they are cleared for travel by the treating physician and travel insurance provider medical team, the task of repatriating them to continue their treatment begins. If they require re-hospitalization, the travel insurer will begin contacting local hospitals near the patient’s home in Canada. Upon locating a suitable hospital, an accepting physician will be located to receive medical information from the sending physician.
  • Once the receiving physician accepts the patient, an available bed must be located. This process takes a variable amount of time, depending on the type of bed required (such as Intensive Care), availability of equipment, or procedures required for the patient’s care. Other considerations that might have an impact include outbreaks at the hospital, the amount of overflow in the emergency ward, and more.
  • Once a bed is available, the insurance provider schedules the most appropriate type of transportation. The provider will monitor the repatriation up until the patient’s arrival at the receiving hospital or their home.

The entire process is focused on the health and safety of the patient, ensuring their well-being and only allowing for transportation once it is deemed safe by the treating physician.

Why is Medical Repatriation So Important to Travellers?

As Dorothy said during her visit to Oz, there is no place like home.

As much as the world at large offers spectacular sights and experiences, when faced with a medical emergency, most travellers believe that home is the best place to be. For many, they may feel more secure dealing with their local hospital and doctors with whom they may already have had dealings, and there is always the issue of communication to deal with in foreign countries. Familiar surroundings and proximity to family and friends can offer comfort and ease of mind, both of which can play a part in the patient’s recovery.

In addition to the benefits to be had in returning home for treatment, medical repatriation can help patients to avoid healthcare debt in the event of medical insurance not being accepted in foreign countries.

When a traveller is ill or injured, they must be repatriated as quickly as possible before their condition worsens, possibly making it impossible for them to fly. To do so requires the right mix of expertise and experience to deal with all of the necessary arrangements.

Lifesupport Air Medical Services is recognized around the world and accredited in international transport medicine. We offer a full range of services to react to every possible medical need quickly and efficiently.

No one ever expects to deal with a medical emergency when they are travelling, but when the need arises, Lifesupport is here to bring you safely home. If you have any questions or concerns about medical repatriation, contact us today.

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