Illness and injuries don't go away just because it's Xmas
- Accidents, emergencies and illnesses don’t take a holiday - in fact, the Ministry of Health reports the number of visits to New Zealand emergency departments during the summer months rivals winter’s sickness season. Be sure you know what your practice’s after hours arrangements are, or if you’re heading away, where you’ll go for help if you need it.
It happens at the same time every year... so let's prepare early
To ensure you don’t run out of prescription medicine and can plan to get through the period while your practice team is taking a well deserved break, it’s best to visit before the end of the year. Many practices are closed for a week or two between/around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Get your prescription underway early and be prepared to wait, the closer it gets to the break, the busier things get. You may experience delays at the pharmacy, too – so be sure to factor that in. If you’re on regular medication, it’s a good idea to get your GP or practice nurse to print out a copy of the names, frequency and dosages in case you run out unexpectedly. If you take a medication that requires daily or weekly pick ups from the pharmacy, be sure to check with them when they will be open before you see your practice team for a specially dated script to tide you over during the break.
Heading away? Don't forget to pack your regular meds.
- Don’t risk getting caught short on holiday – not only can it be a real pain to find a practice in a strange city or town, it’s likely to cost you more, since you won’t be an enrolled patient of that practice. Be sure regular medications are at the top of your packing list, and if they’re essential, include them in your carry on, not checked baggage, which brings us to...
Have a backup plan
- If you have health conditions which may mean you need urgent attention when you are away from home or your normal practice is closed, you may wish to ask your practice for a printout of your conditions. In some parts of the country, your GP can create an Acute Plan which can be shared with emergency services either electronically, or on paper, so everyone is in the loop if you need help.
Check your expiry dates!
- Make sure you have an up to date supply of emergency medicines like EpiPen, prednisone, nitrolingual spray for angina, or asthma inhalers. Don’t assume the one sitting at the back of the bathroom cabinet that you took camping last year will still work, check the use by date and give the inhalers a shake to make sure there is enough left to be useful when you need them.
Know the rules if you're heading overseas
Common and readily available medications aren’t welcome everywhere. And customs at most places you go will want you to be carrying any meds or medical devices with a prescription, in their original packaging. Check out the rules online for the country you’re visiting to see if your medication is able to be taken in, and how much of it they will allow. The best source for reliable information is that country’s embassy. It’s always a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor explaining what your medication is, including the generic name (sometimes the same medicine is called something different in another country).
Take good care of your medications
If your medication is temperature sensitive, have a chat to your pharmacist about how you can keep it cool (or warm) enough to make sure it still works. There are some great solutions around for this. Also, consider paying the pharmacy to have your medications blister-packed - so much easier to tear off a section and go, and count the number of sections you need to cover your days away.
Let your practice team know where you're headed
Your general practice team is the place to go for travel health information, including vaccinations and other advice you may need if you’re travelling overseas. Be aware that the cost of vaccines can be quite high, so it’s something you’ll definitely want to add in to your holiday budget. Think ahead if you are visiting a destination that requires vaccines, as some are given as two shots at least six weeks apart. Don’t leave it until the last minute or you may not be fully covered. Most travel vaccines are given quite rarely, and your general practice will need a few days notice to order and have the vaccine on site for you. Please bring in a detailed itinerary so your general practice team can make sure you get the vaccines you need for your destination, and so that you can have a good discussion about diseases Kiwis are often unfamiliar with, including Zika, Malaria and Dengue. The risk varies with seasons and between different areas in the same country. Checking the WHO website or with your travel agent about risks before you see your GP will give both of you more time to look at how you keep well while travelling, rather than spending your time together searching sites for risk reports.
Only visit the emergency department when it is an emergency
The emergency department is for health needs that are time-sensitive or particularly intense. Let’s keep the waiting room clear for people who are in a serious or life-threatening situation. For smaller issues that could be treated tomorrow – like sore throats, sprains or low-grade temperatures – an urgent care after hours clinic will be the best place to get help. You can be assured that after hours clinics will refer any emergency patients straight to hospital to get the care they need, but in other cases the ED is not to be considered a convenient, free option – you’ll likely have to wait for a long time to receive treatment in the case of a moderate illness due to triage systems.
You may not see your usual GP
When your practice does open again, your regular team may still be away, so you may end up seeing another GP in the practice, or a ‘locum’. Locums are fully qualified doctors who work in place of your regular GP, to provide cover when he or she is taking a break. While it can be hard to see somebody you don’t know or have an ongoing relationship with, locums or other doctors in the practice still have access to your notes and medical history. And don’t forget, they have the trust of your doctor, to stand in their place.