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Heading South for the Winter? Check This Medical Checklist
  • Posted October 30, 2022

Heading South for the Winter? Check This Medical Checklist

Escaping from a cold, wintery place to a warm climate can be fun for so-called "snowbirds" who migrate south for the winter.

Still, experts say it's a good idea for older adults to prepare by having a "medical checklist" to ensure both regular care and help in case of an emerging issue while away from home.

"Snowbirds should have their medical checklists completed a month before they leave for their long-term destination," said Isabel Valdez, an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"The No. 1 thing I recommend is to establish care with an additional primary care doctor at their long-term destination in the fall and winter who can coordinate with their home doctor," she said in a college news release.

Check with insurance providers or with friends and family who live at the destination to find a reputable primary care physician. Ensure that doctor will be able to communicate with the doctor back at home, Valdez suggested.

If you're going to need to have a checkup with a specialist during the time you're gone, work with insurance providers to find one that's covered.

"Some medical conditions that require the care of a specialist may only require an appointment once or twice a year," Valdez said. "You might only need to visit the specialist in your home state, but checking with your doctor at home and with your insurance providers to find a specialist in your network at your travel destination is a good idea."

It's also important to travel with medications you take daily, such as antidepressants or those that treat chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure or thyroid conditions.

Pack extra prescription creams, inhalers, insulin pens or vials, and keep them close by, Valdez suggested. Blood pressure machines and glucometers, along with needles, syringes and lancets, also should be available during their journey and at the destinations, she said.

Have an emergency source of power, such as a power pack and spare batteries, for essential devices such as CPAP machines, nebulizing machines and oxygen delivery devices.

Pack a fresh 90-day supply of necessary medications to ensure you have enough for your stay. You may be able to use local, national or mail-order pharmacies to ensure you have enough supply if your trip extends past 90 days.

Shipment times may be elongated due to the holiday season, so Valdez suggests making sure that a local in-person pharmacy can receive prescriptions from your physicians.

If your at-home and destination doctors share the same electronic medical record software program, that can be helpful. But whether they do or don't, it's still helpful to travel with a physical or electronic copy of your medical records, Valdez suggested.

Also send the physicians at your destination a copy of your medical power of attorney, she recommended. Have an updated will, in case of life-changing emergencies.

"While we hope we never have to use it, a medical power of attorney is something that physicians want to make sure is on record so that we can make the best decisions for our patients and their loved ones," Valdez said.

Schedule planned surgeries or procedures three months before travel, to give yourself time to recover and get proper follow-up, Valdez said. Delay your trip if you have to have an emergency procedure or extend your stay if that emergency happens at your destination.

"First and foremost, the most important thing that we want to keep in mind is patient safety," Valdez said. "There could be risks involved with travel shortly after procedures, so you don't want to put yourself in any danger until you receive a clean bill of health from your provider."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more tips on safe travel for seniors.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, Oct. 27, 2022

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