International health insurance comes with a host of rich benefits. Plans are designed for globally mobile people to maintain and enhance their health as they travel or work overseas. Repatriation and evacuation is one such benefit: a service you probably never want to use, but one that could prove invaluable if you do.

What is the repatriation and evacuation benefit, and when might you need it?

Broadly, this benefit can be used when you require treatment that is not available locally. Your insurer will assess your situation and if required, will evacuate you to the nearest, most appropriate medical centre for you to receive treatment.

As with every benefit, insurer wordings differ slightly. Here are a couple of examples:

Insurance provider Allianz Worldwide Care, adopts the following wording in relation to emergency medical evacuation:

  • Where necessary treatment is not available locally, we will evacuate the insured person to the nearest appropriate medical centre
  • Where ongoing treatment is required, we will cover hotel accommodation costs
  • Evacuation in the event of unavailability of adequately screened blood
  • If medical necessity prevents an immediate return trip following discharge from an in-patient episode of care, we will cover hotel accommodation costs

Now Health International’s evacuation and repatriation benefit is broken down into the following elements:

  • Transportation costs
  • Reasonable local travel costs to and from medical appointments
  • Reasonable travel costs for a locally – accompanying person
  • Non-hospital accommodation costs Repatriation to country of residence or nationality following treatment

Evacuation and repatriation in action

If someone is ill or injured they will often need to be evacuated, especially when they are in a remote location. The patient will be taken to the nearest medical facility able to provide the medical treatment they need, even if this is in another country.

Repatriation, on the other hand, can take place in a wider set of circumstances, such as:

  • when a long recovery period is required following medical treatment, and it is more suitable for a person to return to their country of residency or home country
  • where specialist medical care is required which might only be available in a specific facility in another country
  • if a death has occurred abroad and a body needs to be returned home.

Flights are most common mode used for evacuation or repatriation—with patients requiring a medical examination to ensure fitness to travel—but many other types of transport are also used.

How does evacuation and repatriation typically work?

International health insurers employ the services of global assistance and repatriation companies that are set up to manage these difficult assignments. They can handle complex logistics and work closely with medical insurance providers to arrange the transportation and on-going care of their members.

In the case of evacuation, patients will often be in a remote location and have a complex medical condition. Assistance companies have the infrastructure to effectively deal with circumstances such as these. For example they have specialist medical teams, transport capabilities plus strong links with hospitals and ambulance providers.

How would you be evacuated or repatriated?

Repatriation can often involve a commercial flight, although private transport can be used too. Cases may require a medical escort, which could be a doctor or nurse. In cases of serious illness, a charter air ambulance or ambulance with medical crew will be used. The assistance company will liaise with all organisations involved, organise the necessary paperwork, cover the costs in the first instance and liaise with family members.

To better understand when evacuation and repatriation might come into play, it can help to look at ‘real life’ examples. Here are two typical scenarios:

Case study I: German executive in China

An executive from Germany is on a one-year contract with his employer in China when he becomes ill with a serious heart condition. After undergoing open heart surgery and a long hospital stay it is decided that the executive should return home for further treatment and recovery. His insurer agrees that this is the right course of action and their medical assistance company organises the repatriation via a flight following the all clear from the patient’s doctor to travel. A nurse is assigned as an escort, and arrangements are made for suitable transportation to and from the plane. The nurse accompanies the patient for the full journey to his family home.

Case study II: Oil worker in Africa

An oil worker in a remote part of Africa has a serious accident on site. The worker is treated in a small medical facility close to the oil facility but requires further specialist medical equipment. The employer’s insurer arranges for a medical assistance company to transport him by helicopter to the nearest suitable hospital, which happens to be 200 miles away. The employee is safely and efficiently evacuated for treatment and, one month after recovery and rest, the employee returns to work.

Assistance and repatriation is essential for employers to fully protect their globally mobile employees. Thankfully the number of people needing evacuation or repatriation is low. However, when these services are required, the situation is usually serious. Handling needs to be with the utmost professionalism and care to ensure the safeguarding and well being of the patient.

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Riviera-Expat is a specialist insurance broker operating in the International Private Medical Insurance market. We source excellent health insurance covers for expatriates around the world every day. Contact us today to find out more about international health insurance and find the right plan for you and your family.