information for global expats

Health Emergencies for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: August 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 the US is 911. Calls to 911 are generally free.

Alternatively, you can call a doctor’s out-of-hours service. See Doctors and Hospitals for Expats in the US.

Cost of emergency treatment

Healthcare is not free in the US, and this includes emergency care and ambulances. If you wish to mitigate your bill, you can consider attending a specialised urgent care clinic. These emergency units are normally cheaper than regular hospitals, but you would need to check this in advance.

An emergency can cost you well above $1,000 if you don’t have health insurance. Hence it is essential to have an insurance policy covering emergencies. See Health Insurance for Expats in the US.

If you are in a vulnerable social group, you should check if you are eligible for a social assistance programme. See National Health Service for Expats in the US.

Note that a hospital cannot refuse to take you as a patient in a life-threatening emergency, even if you can’t afford treatment. Once your condition stabilises, you might wish to apply for a transfer to a public hospital. See Doctors and Hospitals for Expats in the US.

High altitude sickness

If you are not a hiker, it is possible that you don’t know about high altitude sickness. These health problems 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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