Self-Help Tools for Family Care
Frank Gillingham, MD
Regardless of where you're going on assignment and how long you're staying, it's a good idea to bring a first aid kit and a reference book about common medical conditions. Those tools will assist you in treating minor illnesses yourself and deciding when it's time to seek professional medical attention.
First Aid Kit
The kit should be much more extensive than the typical kit kept in a car or boat and should include:
Typical first aid supplies such as bandages, band-aids, splints, tweezers.
Over-the-Counter Medications. Vitamins, analgesics, decongestants, antacids, contact lens solutions, sunscreens, mosquito repellants, contraceptives, etc. Each of these may be sold in a different formulation in your host country.
Prescription Medications. The medications you bring depend on your medical history and your host country, but antibiotics (for both travelers diarrhea and skin infections), jet lag and motion sickness remedies, and injectable epinephrine (for unexpected allergic reactions) should all be seriously considered and discussed with your regular physician. As noted previously, you can avoid problems with curious customs agents by keeping all medications in their original bottles and including a letter from the prescribing doctor in the kit explaining why the medications are necessary.
Medical Reference Book
A medical reference book that explains common medical conditions and their treatment is a terrific resource for the expatriate, particularly in remote cities or host countries. As an physician in France explained:
"A medical reference book will come in handy for advice on how to treat common ailments, and when to seek medical advice..."—General Practice Physician, Paris.
There are many choices so review several titles and pick one that isn't too heavy to carry.
Medical websites are another tool that expatriates can use for diagnostic and treatment information, but it's hard to beat a book for portability and readability. In addition, medical websites vary a lot in the reliability of their sources and in how frequently they update material. The web is put to its best current use when patients search it for information about experimental treatment protocols and rare diseases, information that is rarely found in books or libraries.