What should the role of health care and health care systems play in expat family wellness? And what are the barriers to accessing it around the world?
Health care is recognised as being one of the most important aspects of life overseas but is typically not adequately researched or planned for in advance.Many of the families that we spoke to said that they had preconceptions or expectations about the quality of health care in their new country, but that these were not based on anything concrete. People’s basis for comparison will always be what they’re used to, what they have grown up with at home.People often seek a second opinion from their home country even when their home country’s health care system is not considered particularly sophisticated.
Health care is unquestionably a challenge for some and a potential concern for everyone. Few families found the need to use health care systems in their new country for anything serious but their experiences of more straightforward primary care (general doctor consultations) don’t necessarily reassure:
“We’ve only had to use the doctors on a few occasions and not for anything major, but if it did come to something serious then I’d be pretty worried. I should try not to think about it.” — Anonymous in Mexico
Health care systems can be a challenge for those whose first language is not the native language as it makes them harder to navigate. It can create doubt in the patient if they do not fully understand the medical professional:
“I don’t know what I’ve been given to take for my back pain. It’s twice as hard because I’m not a medical expert and I don’t speak good Chinese or English. Is it safe if I don’t know the medicine?” — Cherry (Filipino in Hong Kong)
Health care issues our families encountered:
Cost In some destinations (including Hong Kong, Dubai and Canada) the cost of using the health care system — including prescriptions, visits to the GP or visits to the hospital — is very high. Additional costs of insured procedures can also be significant1.
Access to medicine Not having access to medicines people are used to in the home country. This is an issue for prescribed medicines but also over-the-counter medicines from pharmacies with a combination of unfamiliarity and language barrier.
Information The process of having to find where to go, who to visit and where to get medicine is stressful when set amongst everything else that needs to be dealt with and sorted when first arriving in a new country.
Insurance Having adequate insurance as a newcomer to the country before you are registered as a citizen is important, but is a worry and a cost. A few people mentioned that travel insurance wasn’t enough but PMI is too expensive when all they need is ‘temporary cover’.
“Though not top-of-mind until it’s needed, health care access and options are critical components of health and wellness, especially when things go wrong.” Source: Wellness Culture Today, The Hartman Group