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Providing care to patients who are abroad

29 June 2022

Medical Protection answers a frequently asked question about treating patients in another country. 

Patients at our practice can communicate with us electronically, regardless of where they are in the world. Recently, a patient of mine contacted me from abroad saying she felt low and asked for advice regarding her medication and requested a callback. I advised her to seek help from local services.

Am I required to give patients advice when they are abroad?

It is not uncommon for patients to contact their GP while they are abroad. In instances where a clinician is unsure of where their patient is contacting them from, it is important to have a robust process in place to be able to establish the location of the patient so that appropriate advice can be given. 

We cannot provide advice on what steps you should take in order to identify the location of patients who request advice remotely, however the level of information they provide should be sufficient for you to be happy that you are speaking to someone in the same country as you. You should record this in the patient’s medical records, alongside the details of the consultation.

Listen to the patient

It would be unreasonable for you to decline to speak to the patient simply because they are abroad (which may not become apparent until you speak with them). A policy that stipulates doctors should not speak to patients when abroad could lead to further medicolegal issues and potential complaints.

Assess the situation

When speaking with a patient who is abroad, we suggest that you advise the patient to seek medical assistance locally. An exception would be if an existing patient for whom you hold medical records is out of the country and unable to return due to COVID-19 quarantine or restricted travel reasons. 

If your cover for clinical negligence claims is being provided by state indemnity, it would be advisable to contact your indemnifier to confirm whether they would cover a claim brought in the situation where you were providing treatment to a patient who was abroad.

The information in this article was correct at the time of publishing. However, due to the fast-evolving nature of the pandemic, we strongly advise you to check all governmental and regulatory guidance for the latest updates.

If you are unsure or need advice, call Medical Protection now and speak to our experts for further guidance.