From tales of travelers falling ill while hiking abroad to harrowing accounts of seriously injured tourists on safari, there are lots of reasons to be curious about what medical evacuation is and why it’s important.

In technical terms, The Free Dictionary defines medical evacuation as the evacuation of a person (usually by air transportation) to a place where they can receive medical care.

At first glance, a medical evacuation might seem like a response best suited for an emergency situation involving an extreme athlete or a serious adventure traveler. You don’t have to be an avid adventurer or an extreme athlete to find yourself in a situation requiring a medical evacuation though.

The chances of acquiring certain diseases or having an accident while traveling depend largely on where you travel and what you do while traveling. At the very least, a life-threatening illness, injury, or accident requiring a medical evacuation can happen anywhere and at any time.

When planning a big trip, thinking about what-if’s typically isn’t high on the to-do list. From food poisoning to traffic accidents, a seemingly small situation can quickly become serious, especially if you’re in a remote location or a foreign country where you don’t speak the native language.

So, for any traveler, it’s best to find out what is medical evacuation — and how to prepare yourself should you or a member of your family ever need one.

When is medical evacuation an appropriate response?

Not every traveler (and hopefully very few) will encounter a traumatic or life-threatening event while away from home. At the same time, not every situation requires a medical evacuation.

Illnesses or injuries triggering a medical evacuation are typically instances when remaining in the location where the incident occurred would be detrimental to the health of the traveler.

Serious conditions that cannot be adequately treated on location or require prompt in-patient hospitalization might also necessitate a medical evacuation.

What is medical evacuation coverage?

Medical evacuation coverage is not travel insurance. There are some travel insurance companies offering policies with medical evacuation coverage. However, it’s up to the individual to find an evacuation service, pay for it, and submit a claim for reimbursement. The same goes for travel insuranced offered through a credit card.

True medical evacuation services are typically sold as a membership.

Most medical evacuation memberships take care of costs associated with the transportation. It’s important to note that many medical evacuation memberships do not include costs for medical bills. For a more detailed explanation, check out our post What Does Medical Evacuation Insurance Cover?

Simple Summary of Medical Evacuation Services

“What is medical evacuation?” is, without a doubt, an important question for travelers to understand. An emergency requiring a medical evacuation can happen at any time and travelers are well served to fully understand what options are available before an emergency happens.

“Travel insurance and medical evacuation services are anything but synonyms,” says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue told USA Today. “Travel insurance protects travelers from financial loss resulting from canceled trips, lost baggage, medical expenses and some medical evacuation expenses. Medical evacuation is a service used to deliver a traveler to life-saving care that may not be available at the traveler’s location.”

Global Rescue is the leading provider of medical and security advisory and evacuation services. With services for the leisure traveler to the extreme adventurer, Global Rescue is trusted by more than one million members worldwide.