COVID-19 and travel assistance: interview with a nurse

Travel assistance specialists do more than answer your questions about your insurance coverage: wherever you are, they help you get the best care in an emergency and support you every step of the way of your before, during and after treatment. To do this, Blue Cross Travel Assistance relies on the expertise of a complete medical team, made up of nurses and medical advisors. 

Kim-Anh To Quoc, nurse at Blue Cross Travel Assistance, explains the ins and outs of medical assistance to support our clients while travelling.

What is the role of the Blue Cross Travel Assistance medical team?

We are here to ensure that clients experiencing a medical emergency abroad receive the medical services necessary to promote their recovery or to plan the repatriation to their province of residence. Whatever the circumstances, we assist the client until their condition has stabilized. We support the family and the client during treatment, and we coordinate the stages of the plan established with the various professionals. 

The agents assigned to managing files will call upon us to determine, for example, if a medical consultation is necessary and contractually permitted, if the treatments are adapted to the medical condition, if the level of care provided is adequate, if a repatriation is safe or if evacuation should be considered.  

Do nurses on the medical team talk to clients during treatment? 

Although agents have all the interpersonal skills to guide clients, the presence of a nurse is sometimes necessary to support someone who is going through a particularly difficult situation. If necessary, we communicate with clients to reassure them, help them understand what they are going through and explain to them the stages of the treatment plan that has been proposed. As we have good knowledge and understanding of medical processes, we are well equipped to support people who need to speak in circumstances that are anything but soothing. tes.

The diversity of the roles of the members of the medical team is therefore essential; everyone has their own area of expertise, which allows them to offer a complete service to the client and their family.

How do you find the experience of working together with family members of the person in a medical emergency?

It is important to know that we are not only available to support clients who are hospitalized. We also communicate regularly with family members - who also need to be comforted - whether they are people at their bedside or in a completely different region. For the latter, the anxiety is all the greater because they are not close to each other. .

When I speak with the relatives of a client, I always take the time to ask them how they feel and I make sure that they understand the circumstances. Telling them that their well-being is important to us and that we are there to listen and reassure them is essential. Sometimes, a question as simple as “How are you doing?” can make a big difference to someone who is in a difficult situation.  

This must be a very rewarding profession! 

Absolutely! You really feel like you are providing valuable and essential support to people who need it. It is for this reason that we are all extremely dedicated within the team, and that we take our profession to heart. Our concern for our clients never leaves us. Even if I am on leave, my colleagues take the time to keep me informed of the progress of a file in which I participated.  

How do you manage medical emergencies in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Currently, supporting people who are in an emergency situation abroad has its share of additional challenges. For example, we have limited access to medical information from people with COVID-19 because they are confined in isolation units. Whatever the situation, we do everything in our power to provide the same level of service to our clients. We have several resources available to support people under the circumstance, which allows us to obtain the information necessary to verify that the client receives appropriate treatment and to limit the possibilities of interpretation

Do you have difficulty planning repatriations in the current situation?  

We are making a lot of effort to repatriate people as quickly as possible. However, as commercial flights have ceased operations in several countries, we are limited in our ability to help clients get home. In addition, for repatriation to be authorized, it is necessary that the clients undergo a screening test for COVID-19 and that they receive a negative diagnosis of infection with this virus. It is also mandatory for clients who have not been infected with COVID-19. The problem is that often hospitals abroad do not have the time and resources to do these tests quickly. This makes repatriation planning slower and more complex.

You have surely supported several clients since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Do you have a story to share?

Recently, we offered support to a client who was infected with COVID-19 during a trip. The whole team was extremely worried about them, since they were part of the people at risk and their health was deteriorating rapidly. It was impossible for us to repatriate them while they were contagious.  

Throughout their hospitalization, we regularly followed up and analyzed medical reports to ensure that they received the appropriate care. We also contacted their travel companion frequently to make sure that they received the emotional support they needed during these worrying circumstances. 

Did you manage to repatriate them?

Yes. As soon as we learned that the second screening test was negative, we started the process of their repatriation to Canada. We worked hard with several hospitals to find a bed their province of residence, and then we gathered all the resources required for the air ambulance trip. Although their state of health had improved, the client needed to be accompanied by a full medical team, as it is generally the case with air repatriation.  

We also managed to secure a place for their travel companion in the air ambulance, which is always a relief for us. Passenger acceptance depends on the airline, and often there is not enough space for loved ones.  

Finally, do you have any advice for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and who are still outside their province of residence

If you are travelling and develop COVID-19 symptoms, start by calling Blue Cross Travel Assistance to open a file. Specialists will direct you - wherever possible - to trusted health care services that meet recognized quality standards and with which we are able to work well.