Each year, cooler temperatures in the north are an indication for many travelers to begin their migration to the warmer climates of the south. Isabel ValdezMD, assistant physician and assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, provides a medical checklist for snowbirds to stay healthy during their flight and at their destination.
“Snowbirds’ medical checklists must be completed a month before they leave for their long-term destination,” Valdez said. “The number one thing I would recommend is to establish care with an additional primary care physician at their long-term destination in the fall and winter who can coordinate with the home physician.”
Pharmacies and medicines
Before traveling, snowbirds must have a fresh 90-day supply of necessary medication. If their stay is longer than three months, snowbirds can take advantage of local, national, or mail order pharmacies to ensure they have adequate supplies. Valdez warns that shipping times may extend due to the holiday season, so ensuring that a traditional pharmacy can receive prescriptions from their doctors can prevent delays.
Snowbirds must travel with the medications you take on a daily basis, such as antidepressants or medications for chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or thyroid conditions. Be sure to pack extra prescription creams, inhalers, pens, or vials and keep them nearby. Blood pressure and glucose meters, as well as needles, syringes and lancets, must also be available during their flight and at their destinations.
Valdez also stresses the importance of ensuring that all travel related medical devices and accessories are packed. If driving to a destination, snowbirds should have an emergency power source, such as power packs and backup batteries, for devices such as CPAP machines, nebulizers, and oxygen delivery devices.
In addition to the primary doctor, snowbirds should also check whether visits with specialists will be necessary at their destinations. To find a reputable primary care physician, Valdez advises checking with insurance providers and friends or family at their destination and making sure they can connect with their physician at home.
“Some medical conditions that require specialist care may require an appointment to be made once or twice a year,” Valdez said. “You may only need to see the specialist in your home state, but checking with your doctor at home and with insurance providers to find a specialist in your network at your travel destination is a good idea.”
Medical records must reflect any new medications, procedures, conditions, or sensitivities and must be easily accessible by the physician at their destination via an electronic record. If Snowbirds have doctors who share the same program of electronic medical records, that can ease the burden on the patient by exchanging information. Regardless, Valdez advises travel with a physical or electronic copy like the one available in the patient portal.
Valdez also advises Snowbirds to send a copy of the medical power of attorney to doctors at their destinations and to have an updated will, in the event of a life-changing emergency.
“Although we hope we never have to use it, a medical power of attorney is something doctors want to make sure it is on record so we can make the best decisions for our patients and their loved ones,” Valdez said.
Valdez suggests scheduling planned surgeries or procedures three months in advance of travel to allow sufficient time for recovery and appropriate follow-up. Emergency measures must be taken seriously and snowbirds must extend their stay or delay flights to stay vigilant about their health.
“First of all, the most important thing we want to keep in mind is patient safety,” Valdez said. “There may be risks associated with travel soon after the procedures, so you don’t want to put yourself in any danger until you receive a clean bill of health from your provider.”
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