Telemedicine For Expats And Retirees Overseas

“Kathleen, my question is for Lee Harrison.

“Lee, I met you at the Medellin conference earlier this month. I’m a physician. I’ve learned that there are 4 million permanent U.S. expats. You get around so maybe you can help me with some questions.

“What do these expats do for routine health care? Is there a market for a telemedicine service where, for a small fee, they get an appointment on Skype with an English-speaking doctor? I was told that in many countries routine medications don’t require prescriptions. Is that correct?

“Enjoyed your talks in Medellin. Thank you for any advice you may have to offer.”

–Allen H., United States

Lee Harrison responds:

What a great idea. I don’t know what the legal requirements might be, but I personally think the concept is brilliant.

When living abroad, expats fall into a number of categories with respect to medical care. Some use the local system, getting both their routine and serious health care abroad. Others get their routine care abroad but return to the United States for serious operations. Others live part-time abroad and attempt to get all care in their home country.

These health care decisions are often based on how much the retiree can afford to spend on health care and whether or not he (or she) has health insurance at home or abroad.

In short, I think many expats would use your proposed service, especially those who don’t speak the native language or who don’t speak it well enough to have a detailed conversation with a doctor.

With respect to prescriptions, most of what we Americans know as prescription medications are sold over-the-counter in Latin America. So things like antibiotics and blood pressure medicine, for example, are dispensed inexpensively and without a prescription. The exception, in some countries, are drugs that contain narcotics.

But even if a prescription were required, I think the service you suggest could still have a place in an expat’s treatment routine. At least when he went to a local doctor, he’d have an understanding of what was wrong and what the options for treatment could be.

Best of luck with your plan.

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