Health Emergencies for Expats in Canada

Submitted: September 2013

If you are in an emergency situation, you must go to a hospital. Failure to do so promptly will only make things worse.

It is always advisable not to be alone at the hospital. Thus, you should call somebody to come with you to the hospital as soon as possible.

Emergency numbers

The official emergency number in Canada is 911, and calls to 911 are generally free. Additional emergency numbers may be available in your local area.

Alternatively, you can call a doctor’s out-of-hours service or visit a walk-in clinic.

Walk-in clinics

If you have a life-threatening emergency, you must go to the hospital emergency room straightaway (or dial 911). If your problem is less serious (e.g. cuts, minor infections, broken bones, bruises, etc.), you can go to a walk-in clinic.

These clinics have well-trained doctors and they do not require any appointment.

Cost of emergency treatment

Healthcare is not free in Canada, and this includes emergency care and ambulances. A provincial health insurance programme should normally meet the cost of emergency treatment. However, ambulance services are not free unless your province (e.g. Ontario) has decided to subsidise ambulance fees.

In any case, ambulance fees may qualify for tax relief. See National Health Service for Expats in Canada.

Medical identification tags/medical alarms

A medical alarm or a medical ID tag may save your life in an emergency situation. It is particularly helpful for vulnerable individuals living alone, such as the disabled or the elderly.

Put simply, a medical ID tag is a small device that you have to wear and it contains all your medical information. In an emergency situation, you only need to press a button to get things going. Once the emergency button is pressed, such devices may call a medically trained helpline and automatically send in your clinical data. There is no need to express yourself at all as the helpline will do all it can to help you out as soon as possible.

The market for such medical alarms is widely developed in Canada.

Travel advice

Many countries provide updated travel information to their citizens, and this often includes health advice. You should regularly check the Foreign Office website of your home country to see if there are any specific steps you need to make. Alternatively, you can go to your local embassy in Canada.

High altitude sickness

If you are not a hiker, it is possible that you don’t know about high altitude sickness. Consequences can be very severe, not to say deadly. If you have recently moved to a high altitude location and you feel bad, you may have high altitude sickness and you need emergency treatment.

As altitude increases, air density decreases. Thus, your respiratory functions are simply unable to absorb the amount of oxygen they previously used to inhale. High altitude sickness can be mitigated if you allow your body to get used to high altitudes before climbing further. This process can take a few days.

Typically, high altitude sickness should not be a serious concern unless your altitude exceeds 2,400 metres above sea level. However, you should seek medical advice to check your individual situation prior to moving to a high altitude location, especially if you have a disability or any other vulnerability.



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