In Distress on the Road?
Try Telemedicine--in English
BY JOAN LANG -- It all started with an unheated pool in Provence. It ended, after several days in bed and ineffective self-medication, with a discovery: Efficient, inexpensive, English-language telehealth care for travelers.

Two weeks into a six-week post-pandemic trip to France and Italy, in still-sultry September in St. Remy de Provence, I joined some fellow hotel guests, from northern Quebec (figures), and stood in the pool up to my shoulders. For a half-hour or more, I talked, joked and practiced my French. I felt young, brave and powerful, just as my new friends predicted.

The following morning, I woke up with a scratchy throat. Tea-and-honey and Zicam certainly helped, to a point. By the time we got to Mougins near Cannes a few days later, however, I had to confine myself to bed for the better part of two days. I really did try to get ahead of the problem.

By the time we got to Rome on Friday, I had to admit that I had developed some sort of bronchitis or sinus infection. And I had only intermittent luck with my experimental cocktails of Sudafed, Claritin and Alka Seltzer Plus. I needed a doctor.

Unfortunately, I don't speak Italian. And neither our Roman friends nor the owner of the apartment we rented knew an English-speaking doctor, either. I slept on the couch, propped up on pillows, so at least my husband could get some sleep.

At five in the morning on Sunday, inspiration struck. Did Roman hospitals have the kind of walk-in, acute-care clinics--the kind that have become increasingly necessary in America--where I might find someone who spoke English?

Mr. Google revealed a few prospects, but then my cursor alighted on a Web site called Doctors in Italy. Reviews of this telehealth service tailor-made for expats and travelers in distress seemed promising.

Suspicious but desperate, I registered, providing my name, age, and credit card information. I put the brakes on twice before I went through with it because telemedicine wasn't something with which I was familiar. But desperation is the mother of courage: I typed in a simple description of my symptoms and hoped for the best.

In just a few minutes I received "offers" from a number of doctors who could teleconference with me at various times. Offers even included an estimate of cost. Prices ranged from about 25 euros to around 75 euros. I picked a doctor in Milan who could "see" me in 15 minutes.

He was young, cordial, empathetic--and spoke perfect English. He asked questions. I answered. In just a few minutes, he texted me a scrip for amoxicillin and an expectorant called Fluimucil. He even helped point me in the direction of a nearby pharmacy that would be open on Sunday. By 9am I was back in the apartment, swallowing my first horse pill.

Total elapsed time: about two-and-a-half hours. Total cost: 35 Euros, plus about 12 euros for the meds. The doctor even texted me two days later to see how I was feeling, reminding me to take the Fluimucil at night because it might make me drowsy.

He also asked that I leave a review on his page since he was trying to grow this part of his medical practice. My review: Ten out of ten, for both the doctor and the service.

The best news? Telemedicine for travelers in distress is not an only-in-Italy phenomenon. A service called MobiDoctor claims it can arrange teleconferences with English-speaking doctors in dozens of European nations. AirDoctor says it can arrange English-language telemedical services around the globe, including 14 countries in the Americas, 38 in Europe, 18 in Asia, eight in the Middle East and Africa as well as Australia and New Zealand. My Brazilian Doctor promises to connect you to an English-speaking practitioner in that Portuguese-speaking nation. And AMDA says it can arrange English-speaking telephone consultations in Japan.

I hope I never have to use any of them. But I'm thrilled to know I can call on them if I spend too much time in a pool on my next trip.

Joan Lang is a food writer living in Maine. She last wrote for Joe Sent Me on the art of crafting better cocktails at home.

Research assistance by Marlene R. Fedin