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Doctor patient in clinic

What to do when you’re sick on the road

Life happens — even on vacation or when traveling the country in retirement. It might be a nasty cold, like I have experienced this past week, a sudden and serious illness or a silly fall resulting in a  broken bone or a horrible sprain.

Getting quality medical care on the road can be just part of the adventure, or a real nightmare. But, with a little advanced planning, a routine trip to the doctor can be nothing more than an unpleasant hiccup in your trip..

Thanks to the ever evolving health care industry, it’s not as easy to “just go to the doctor” when you have insurance. Many times, the insurance policies are written in such a way that you’re “out of network” if you travel down the street, let alone across the country.  Some insurance companies understand that people travel, while others aren’t so tolerant. So, do yourself a favor and find out before you leave whether you’re covered on the road, and for what types of services.

As a small business owner, I don’t have access to the nice insurance plans many people do. In fact, Obamacare would have cost me more than $1,000 per month for extreme basic coverage even with a $5,000 deductible. Instead, I opted to join a medical bill sharing service offered by Christian Health Ministries. For $150 per month and $45 per quarter — the gold plan — I can submit any bills over $500 to the group where the money collected from other members each month is pooled to pay any medical bills received.

That means, if I wind up in an accident or experiencing a heart attack some day, my bills are covered. But, what about the more routine medical costs?  Those can be a little tricky for self-pay people like me. But, I haven’t had any problems getting medical care during the two years I have been full-timing. Yes, it helps to have a credit card because all clinics, hospitals and urgent care centers accept those without having to make any calls to insurance providers.

Basically, when routine medical care is required, RVers have three choices — emergency rooms, urgent care centers and clinics. The key is to know what to expect before you go.

I try to avoid emergency rooms at all costs. They are extraordinarily expensive for routine care, and justifiably so. They are designed for people with serious medical problems who need help right away. Ear infections, sore throats, coughs and fevers really don’t generally belong in emergency rooms, and people who visit them for routine care can expect to pay through the nose for that level of service.

Urgent care centers tend to be more helpful, and there are often one or two in any decent-sized community. However, it is essential that you call first and find out what the charges will be or, I guarantee, you’ll be in for an unpleasant shock when you check out.

Two years ago, I severely sprained my wrist in a fall trying to chase my daughter’s dog who got off leash. I was soaked for more than $600 for an urgent care visit and an x-ray — plus another $90 charge to have a doctor “read” the x-ray a few days later.

Just this week, I needed to see a doctor after coming down with a fever and nasty cough. The campground recommended Hampton Regional Medical Center, which was about 25 minutes away from me in Yemassee, S.C. However, when I called to ask what the cost for an initial visit would be, I was put on hold a few minutes and eventually told the cost would be “around $300, plus tests, but the actual amount wouldn’t be known until the following day when the business office opened.”  Thanks. I passed.

So, I googled urgent care centers and found Doctors Express, which isn’t tied to a hospital.  The initial cost was $104 plus tests and a sack full of medication. But, I was in and out of there in 60 minutes.

A few months ago, my ear started bleeding and I thought it might be a good idea to have someone shine a flashlight down there and see what might be going on. So, I drove to the Cameron Urgent Care Center in Angola, Ind., and was told the initial cost would be $289, but the test results wouldn’t be available for two days. No thanks. The next day, I visited a CVS pharmacy near Cleveland that had a Minute Clinic inside. For $99, I had a nurse practitioner look at my ear and prescribe some medicine to take care of what appeared to be some type of inflammation. Again, in and out within an hour.

One time I needed to see a doctor for a persistent cough, and the campground owner recommended that I visit her primary care physician. This can be tricky because some clinics don’t accept new patients. However, her clinic apparently didn’t consider people passing through the area to be a big drain on its resources, and I was in and out in 45 minutes for $54.

One thing that was common to every doctor visit was the need to fill out a bunch of forms to record all my medical history. Some firms were more intrusive than others when asking for information, including immunization records and history of past illnesses or hospitalizations. For that reason, I recommend putting as much of your health care history as you care to keep as either a file on your phone or make it accessible through Dropbox or another cloud storage account. It’s easy to do the same for each member of the family — even pets.

That way, it’s easier to find information when working to complete a bunch of forms, even when you’re sick. It also allows you to update your records on the spot with any new medication you’ve been prescribed.

Speaking of easy information, John Huggins, at Living the RV Dream, recommends storing important medical information on a sheet of paper that is attached to your seat belt strap so that it is accessible to emergency medical technicians in case of an accident.

Better yet, store all important information on a credit card style flash drive that you carry in your wallet. It’s much easier to read and to update than handwritten notes.

Another resource recommend by a Let’s RV reader is RoadID. More information can be found by visiting

Getting sick when traveling can put a serious damper on the fun. But, with a little planning and a few phone calls, you’ll be back in the action in no time.


About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor of Let's RV and the editor of RV Daily Report. A Wisconsin native and father of three grown daughters, he is now based out of Arizona and travels the country in his Winnebago Adventurer motorhome interviewing industry professionals and interesting RVers alike. He can be reached at

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