Getting Your Ducks in a Row When Traveling During Cancer Treatment

‘Snowbirds’ with cancer can still take flight, but planning ahead is crucial.
BY MARILYN FENICHEL
PUBLISHED: MARCH 06, 2017
FOR THE PAST 10 YEARS, in October, Gary Halgren, 69, has been packing up his car for the 25-hour trip to his winter home in Orlando, Florida. He and his wife look forward to escaping the cold Duluth, Minnesota, winters for the balmy Florida weather.

Since the fall of 2012, a new dimension has been added to his preparations. After a diagnosis of bladder cancer and surgery to remove his bladder, he must now make certain arrangements in advance. For example, he needs to touch base with the mail-order pharmacy and medical supply company to make sure he receives his medications and supplies during the five months he is away. He also must line up a physician near his Florida home.

“Fortunately, I don’t need much care while we’re away,” says Halgren. “I’ve been able to receive my supplies through the mail. Because I was treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, it made sense to go the Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville site during our time in Florida. My doctors from St. Luke’s in Duluth provided me with a thumb drive with my medical records, so the doctors here have all the information I need. Soon I will be having a routine procedure up in Jacksonville. It’s all worked out really well.”

Although it sounds seamless, Halgren’s transfer of care from Minnesota to Florida required attention and planning. For all cancer patients with similar travel plans, thinking ahead — with a focus on medical care in the winter location, gathering and transfer of medical records, accommodations for medications and supplies, and insurance coverage — is key to a successful sojourn away.

TRANSFERRING MEDICAL RECORDS

Many patients with cancer and survivors, especially those who live in cold climates, become "snowbirds" in the winter, traveling to warmer regions. In those areas, providers have observed a seasonal rise in the number of patients they treat. “We see an increase in volume of between 20 percent and 25 percent between October and March,” says Thomas Samuel, M.D., interim director of the Maroone Cancer Center at the Cleveland Clinic Florida, Weston, and a breast oncologist. “We see patients in active therapy, chronic therapy, hormone therapy and those who need periodic check-ins. We’re happy to work with these patients, but we also make it clear that we can’t guarantee that the care will be seamless. We ask that they bring their pathology slides, doctor records and images so that we can confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes we may even question the treatment plan in place, which may require the patient to talk to her doctor at home and reconsider her options.”



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