Senior Health

1/31/2024 | By Terri L. Jones

The challenges of getting the right health care multiply when the best options aren’t nearby. Seniors Guide writer Terri L. Jones offers seven tips for out-of-town medical procedures, based on firsthand experience and on research.

After my husband, Don, was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal condition, he learned about a new, minimally invasive surgery that had demonstrated great success. However, this innovative, outpatient surgery wasn’t available in the area where we live. After doing a lot of research, Don decided to have the surgery done at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where one of the preeminent experts on this procedure practices.

Below, I share our experience with my husband’s out-of-town surgery, along with the lessons we learned along the way:

Lessons on out-of-town medical procedures

1. Consultation

The first step was a consultation with the surgeon at Cleveland Clinic to determine if Don was a good candidate for this particular surgery. After a lot of emails and phone calls back and forth, it was determined that he would need to travel to Cleveland for the consultation and then again for the surgery. His follow-up appointment could be done virtually.

Lesson: Find out upfront how many times you will have to travel to this out-of-town facility, so that you can factor the costs of travel and hotel stays into your decision to venture out of your area for your procedure.

2. Insurance and finances

We also needed to make sure our insurance would cover surgery provided by this out-of-network hospital.

Lesson: Contact your insurance company to determine what will be covered and what your out-of-pocket costs will be. Keep receipts from your trip, too, since some medical travel expenses are tax deductible.

3. Travel and care coordination

Once we decided on Cleveland Clinic, their gastrointestinal disease staff connected Don with hotels located on the hospital campus, where shuttles could transport us back and forth and my husband’s dietary restrictions could be accommodated.

The staff at Cleveland Clinic also coordinated the transfer of records from his local physician.

Lesson: Many large medical facilities offer the services of a patient navigator or social worker to assist out-of-town patients with travel arrangements, lodging, and care coordination. Some hotels offer discounted rates to patients of a neighboring medical facility, and some hospitals and nonprofits offer lodging specifically for patients and families, at affordable rates and with supportive services.

4. Timing

Husband in hospital bed and nurse beside him, talking with medical professional. By Monkey Business Images. Article offering tips for out-of-town medical procedures.

We arrived in Cleveland the day before Don’s surgery and we booked our hotel room for two days after, in case my husband had any complications from surgery. We were glad that we built in this cushion, as we encountered snow and flight delays on our way there, and Don ended up having to be admitted to the hospital overnight and into the next day after his surgery due to complications.

Lesson: Arriving the day before your surgery helps ensure that travel delays won’t interfere with surgery. Plus, remaining in town for a few days after keeps you from having to seek treatment for complications from a different doctor at home or make another trip. There’s also the possibility that your procedure will be pushed back by a few hours or even a day and building in that extra time gives you the cushion you may need.

5. Transportation

We hired an Uber to drive us from the airport to the hotel. Once there, we had easy access to shuttles that regularly ran from the hotel to the hospital and back again. However, when Don experienced complications after his surgery, the shuttle would not transport him to the ER. We were forced to call an ambulance instead.

Lesson: Shuttles are the most convenient mode of transportation for out-of-town patients; however, there is a limit to their services. Even ridesharing services and taxis may not be able to accommodate all your needs. It may be beneficial to have a rental car at your disposal, even if only for use in an emergency.

6. Dietary restrictions

My husband had contacted the hotel restaurant manager in advance about his dietary needs, but because we arrived at the hotel after business hours due to flight delays, the manager had already left for the day. Luckily, Don didn’t have much of an appetite then and it wasn’t an inconvenience to request the special foods he needed the following day after his surgery.

Lesson: If the patient or companion has dietary restrictions, be sure to give the hotel staff a heads-up to ensure they can provide the foods you need if you need them. To cover your bases, request the name of someone else who can help if the person you initially contacted is out sick or otherwise unavailable.

7. Travel considerations

My husband has difficulty walking long distances on his best day. When he struggled to make it to our gate on the way to Cleveland, I suggested that he reserve wheelchairs to navigate the airports for the flight home since he would probably still be tired and weak from the surgery.

Related: Travel Tips for Alzheimer’s Families

Lesson: It’s best to request an airport wheelchair when you make your flight reservation. When you arrive at the airport, identify yourself as the person needing the wheelchair at the check-in counter. Also, try to pack lightly to minimize transporting heavy bags. Keep necessities with you during the trip, including medications, up-to-date medical information, a list of emergency contacts, and photocopies of important documents. Include hydration and snacks – airports and rest stops aren’t known for offering healthy snacks or affordable prices.

Out-of-town medical procedures can be challenging, due to additional costs and logistical challenges. However, when you plan well and keep the potential roadblocks in mind, out-of-town health care can be well worth pursuing.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones