How to Be Prepared for the Unexpected
This article is a planning tool and the recommendations provided here are intended as guidelines only. To ensure that all your travel health needs are covered, seek further assistance from your doctor or travel health clinic. This information provided by Rome Abroad is meant to complement, not substitute, the advice of your healthcare provider. Reliance on any information provided by Rome Abroad is solely at your discretion. Always be prepared for any anticipated medical conditions or emergencies before traveling abroad.
All Rome Abroad Travelers should review and update the following vaccinations prior to departure: Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio, Influenza, and Pneumococcal. We strongly recommend Hepatitis A vaccination for all Rome Abroad Travelers, regardless of destination.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Italy ranks second among the top 10 countries for quality health services. Believe it or not, the U.S. ranks at 37th place.
Most doctors and pharmacists in Europe speak at least beginner English so you shouldn't worry about communication issues. Worst case scenario, a doctor whose English isn't wonderful can probably help you get in touch with another doctor who speaks English well.
Italy, like most European countries has a universal healthcare system. This national health plan is called Servizio Sanitario Nazionale and most care is free or low-cost. In Italy, healthcare is considered a right. This means that everyone pays for healthcare as part of their taxes, so when someone is injured in Italy, they avoid becoming bankrupt with hospital fees. Although no healthcare system is perfect, it does give peace of mind knowing that everyone is taken care of, even those not from Italy. So if you are sick or get injured during your adventure, you will have treatment available.
If you have an accident or life-threatening issue, get to a hospital. Or if you have a serious accident, call an ambulance. In Italy, the number for emergencies is 112 or 113.
Check your international coverage in your insurance policy before you go so you know what to expect. However, you will "likely have to pay out of pocket for any medical treatment, even if your insurance company provides international health care coverage" (Rick Steves). Emergency room fees range from free to small fees to expensive, depending on what treatment you need. Be sure to get a copy of your hospital bill so that you can file a claim to be reimbursed when you go back home. And if you bought travel insurance, make sure to call the company as soon as possible to report the injury. Most of the time, travel insurance companies can work directly with the hospital to get your bills paid.
If you're experiencing a minor injury, like a sore throat, fever, stomach problem, sinus issue, insomnia, blisters, rashes, urinary tract infections, or muscle, joint, and back pain a local pharmacy is a great option for relief. Pharmacists in Europe can diagnose and prescribe remedies for a multitude of simple health issues.
Although some medications might look the same in Europe as their counterparts in the U.S., they can be stronger in Italy so be careful especially when following dosage directions. Realize that topical remedies are very common in Europe so if you're experiencing body pains or aches, a pharmacist might prescribe a cream to apply first and foremost.
Health clinics in Europe are generally efficient, effective, and inexpensive. Clinics are ideal if your issue is beyond a pharmacist, or if you need to be checked for a non-emergency medical issue or get tested for something. Just like clinics in the U.S., clinics in Italy will have you sign in with a receptionist, answer some basic questions, and then wait for a nurse or doctor. A clinic visit may have a nominal fee or it might also be free. Like the emergency room fee, you should expect to pay this fee even if you’re covered through your health insurance company or a special travel policy. Also like any other sort of healthcare fees, be sure you get a copy of the bill so you can file a claim when you get home.
To locate a pharmacy or clinic, you can use Google Maps or ask your host family.
You can also use the U.S. Embassy's website to see lists of physicians and hospitals in major cities in Italy.
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) is another helpful organization. Through them, you will get a list of English-speaking doctors in more than 90 member countries who charge affordable, standardized fees for medical visits. IAMAT membership is free but donation is requested. You can check out the fee pricing on their website and you pay the provider directly at time of visit.
For more information on healthcare, check out tips and insights from Steve Ricks.
Another useful thing to do is to add emergency contacts right in your phone.
Go to the Health app (already installed on your iPhone)
Turn on the "Show When Locked" and add your contact info
Add any medical conditions, notes, allergies, your blood type, height, weight, etc.
Add emergency contacts
Include your host parent(s) for while you are abroad
Turn on Auto Call (requires SIM card
You can also register to Donate Life America (optional)
Go to Settings, and select Users
Click “Emergency Information” and add any medical conditions, notes, allergies, your blood type, height, weight, etc.
On the same page, add your contact info
- Click the contacts tab and add emergency contacts
- Include your host parents for while you are abroad