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Disclosing Health Information to Travel Operator

My travel operator is asking for information about my pre-existing conditions. I realize that they may want advance notice of potentially troublesome medical issues that their customers may have; however, my conditions are well-controlled and I don't wish to disclose them. Am I in any way legally obligated to do so? Thanks for your input.

Posted by
15577 posts

Travel agent or Tour operator? There's a difference, but unless you are buying travel insurance from them, it may be none of their business. Just because people ask for information, doesn't mean you have to give it to them. Did they also want your social security number and your mother's maiden name?

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks, Sam. It's the tour operator that's requesting the information. I've purchased trip insurance from another company.

Posted by
2525 posts

Absent a significant medial issue and well more than remote possibility of impacting the tour, don't divulge.

Posted by
6045 posts

I suppose it may depend on what type of tour you're talking about. Is it something that includes some activities that could be dangerous to people with some conditions? I've seen a warning like "you shouldn't take this tour if you suffer from x, y, or z" or some disclaimer like that.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks Bruce and Nancy. There should be nothing particularly hazardous on this tour!

Posted by
851 posts

My concern is based on incidents involving family, and not even on a trip:

If you are involved in an accident of some kind, taken to a hospital, and are unable to speak, will the doctor find this info useful to your recovery? Important to think about if you are traveling alone.

Posted by
20625 posts

I have a chronic condition that is well controlled by medication BUT every couple of years or so it will suddenly flare up and then needs additional attention. Why it does it -- big question. Did happen on one independent trip. Just remember that traveling and jet lag, food and water changes all put stress on the body's system and things can happen. What is the downside to advising of potential problems? Not going to stamp it on your name tag.

Posted by
3262 posts

Personally, I have no issues with medical disclosure, however I don't recall ever being asked that question.

I do carry in my purse and in my moneybelt an "in case of emergency" note that includes my husband's name and phone number, all the names and phone numbers of my various doctors, a list of my various ailments and a list of the medications I take. I also take a list of my latest non-normal blood test results.

Even if I'm traveling with others, I don't expect anyone to know all my medical issues. But I do want that information easily found if things go sideways. And I always get extra medical and repatriation insurance.

On my last trip to Amsterdam and Scandinavia I had those lists only in English. But when I go to a country where English is not so commonly known, I also carry them in the local language(s).

Fortunately, I've never had to make use of any of these precautions. I foolishly think that as long as I am well-prepared, nothing bad will happen.

Posted by
5817 posts

Why not ask them why they need to know? There might be a perfectly sensible reason, though I'm not sure I can think of one?

Posted by
16827 posts

I have a totally benign congenital condition which results in an abnormal reading when a particular blood test is performed. It's not something I ever think about, though it's in my US medical records.

Three years ago I developed a gastro issue while in Ljubljana. Blood work was done, whereupon a doctor approached me with a look of concern. It was only at that point that I remembered the Gilbert's Syndrome. I was fully sentient and allayed his concern immediately, but it could have been different. Maybe I should put a sticky note inside my passport.

Posted by
672 posts

I’m pretty sure that the forms for RS tours ask for a list of medical conditions, as well as any medications you’re taking. I always thought that it was in my interest for the guide to have my medical information in case of an emergency. I don’t really see the downside to listing it.

Posted by
16769 posts

Is the tour operator providing any kind of trip cancellation/interruption insurance that covers you in case of illness?

We have moved away from requesting medical information other than food allergies, I think due to HIPA information standards, or perhaps for other operational reasons. But when we did request it, it was primarily to assist with communication in case of an emergency.

Posted by
5498 posts

It would be resonable to disclose medical conditions that you would descrive on a "medical alert" bracelet. When I skied with a friend with a heart condition he would let me know where he kept his nitroglycerin tabs. I have also encountered a downhill skier in distress who was coherent enough to tell me that he was a diabetic.

I also travel with groups where the a "medical evacuation" plan is requested including travel medical insurance, emergency contacts, etc.

Posted by
5817 posts

I'm generally quite open about my medical condition, I have MS, but I do share the information on "my terms" not just because someone, a person? a company? feels they need to know.

I have learnt from personal experience that there is alot of ignorance about and informing people/companies can lead to some very odd, responses! If someone doesn't need to know I'm not telling them.

If the company can provide a decent reason fair enough, otherwise they can go jump.

Posted by
8293 posts

There is a travel company here which specializes in tours for seniors. Their tours are all inclusive, including medical insurance, for which one’s age and pre-existing medical conditions must be disclosed. Perhaps this is a similar situation with the OP’s “Travel Operator” ?

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you all for your perspectives. I might consider carrying information about my "conditions" and the medications I take. Edgar, what is a medical evacuation plan?

Posted by
607 posts

Perhaps the reason they are asking you is so they do not accidentlly kill you or make you sick and have you or your family sue them.

For example, as part of the tour they set up a dinner and you are served food which causes an allergic reaction. If you had disclosed your allergies, this could have been avoided. They asked, and if you choose not to tell then it is all on you.

Posted by
5498 posts

"Medical Evacuation Plan". Our trip organizer has us fill out a information sheet with information that could be useful in the event of a medical emergency situation. As noted, the "plan" included who to contact/notify if a participant had a medical emergency, foreign travel medical and medical evacuation insurance. Basically it included information that would help if you were non-responsive and had to be left behind.

Posted by
16827 posts

A medical evacuation plan is essentially a form of insurance that prevents the traveler from having to come up with a huge amount of money (can be over $100,000) if he has a catastrophic medical problem (whether illness or injury) that requires treatment elsewhere, perhaps entailing dedicated air transport accompanied by medical personnel. Multiple companies offering this type of coverage, and I think they can differ substantially in their details and costs.

My mother had to be airlifted from the Greek island of Chios to Athens 20 years ago. She had no evacuation insurance, so she was very lucky that she only needed to go to Athens and that the Greek military sent a plane for her at no charge. She was intubated on the plane, which probably saved her life. There was no capability to do that on the island, so I recomnend not getting a severe case of pneumonia on a small Greek island.

Posted by
4687 posts

When we were on a premium safari in East Africa (Abercrombie and Kent), one of our group of 12 or so was an much older lady with an adult niece. She had presented a doctor's note to book the trip. But, first, she had a problem with the .. er ... public aspect of field urinary relief (one gender at a time, behind the Land Cruisers). So she developed ... severe constipation by not drinking enough water. She had to stay in her room for several days. There are no doctors in permanent tented camps in the African bush, needless to say. Then on the way home, in the Masai Mara area airport, she missed the step down from the ladies room (you know how European hotel rooms can tend to have a raised bathroom floor for later addition of plumbing?) and fell flat on her face. I and some other guests and airport staff had to lift her wheelchair over our shoulders and into the back storage area of a 20 passenger bush plane for the trip back to Nairobi, where she was hospitalized. She moaned all the way back to Nairobi. It was awful, not just for her.

Sorry for the medical details, but they are the whole point of the (true, August 2013) first hand, my wife and my trip, story.

Edit: Since my criticism of the OP was removed from this post, I want to make sure that it's understood that this report is intended to suggest that what you think is private may be of tremendous relevance to the provider of the trip, and to the other people on the tour. Maintaining your medical privacy is not a decision to be made as if you are simply protecting yourself from hackers or corporate money-makers. Your decision affects others.

Posted by
2766 posts

I have taken 16 RS tours and have taken out Travel Guard insurance for each. I take out that medical insurance policy in which I include medical evacuation, as soon as I make my first payment towards each trip, being that a hotel, plane, or RS deposit, so that I am covered for any pre-existing conditions that I have. I have several cardiac conditions for which I carry numerous warning cards and I also notify each RS guide of my situation. Travel Guard has never asked me to list any pre-existing conditions. I have never had a bad medical situation develop while in Europe, thank goodness.

Posted by
1953 posts

Just to add to Charlie's good advice. As a nurse I have seen and heard of life threatening cases that did not have Travel Insurance and Medical Evacuation. Anything can happen when traveling.

The current "optional" question being asked on the RS travel profile - "Is there anything we should know about your health? If you choose not to answer the question, perhaps bringing a print out of your medical history that would include current medications, allergies, healthcare provider contact info., health conditions, emergency contacts. This is what we do.

Posted by
3282 posts

I never really thought about filling out the form completely and honestly because until very recently I had no serious medical issues. Now I have a lot of them and I think I would still have no issues with letting the tour company know. Nothing I have is contagious nor would it prevent me from doing any of the activities on a standard RS tour on a normal day. I doubt RS tours would tell me I can't go on the tour due to any of my medical issues since they are all well controlled. If any of the conditions did flare up to a point where I would be sidelined for the day, I feel it would be a good thing for the tour guide to have an idea of what was going on.

Posted by
12099 posts

I don't have any personal objections to being asked medical questions, what prescribed meds I'm on, etc. I have not been on guided tours, but pertaining to week long seminars I have been asked medical questions on the seminar registration applications. I just fill out the necessary information since not providing the info might be cause for not being accepted. It makes no difference to me in giving that med info.

Posted by
6045 posts

I don't have any personal objections to being asked medical questions, what prescribed meds I'm on, etc.

Well, that's all fine and good for you, but some medical issues involve some pretty personal things that SOME people might not want to share with others. I guess it depends mostly on why they are asking the question, why they feel they need to know, and I might disagree that it's necessary and in that case I might not be totally forthcoming.

Posted by
4444 posts

What would happen if you were unconscious and were transported to a medical facility? Would the medical facility need to know about your condition to properly treat you? If so, how would they get that info?

I have always assumed that when a tour operator asks about medical info, it is because they want to be able to provide that info to a doctor should the worst case happen.

Posted by
12099 posts

"...transported to a medical facility?" In such a situation, if it came to that, and if they ask about my medical history, prescribed meds, etc., I would tell them. Any question put to me that is relevant, I would answer, assuming I could.

Posted by
5308 posts

I guess a major part of the question is whether you are traveling alone or with a companion who would be able to provide needed medical information in an emergency situation where you are unable to communicate it. (Of course, if you both get hit by the same bus ....)

Posted by
8609 posts

Be careful what you report to a tour company. All personal information you give them
goes into your "file" including all negative evaluations as well as anything that happens to you on tour is reported back.

This happened to me with a well known tour company. I developed a temporary foot issue that made walking painful. I had to back out of many of the activities. I never held up the group and worked with the tour director to make sure none of my fellow passengers were affected. I never blamed the tour company. (As soon as I got home, the problem went away in a week and never returned.) I didn't mention it on my tour evaluation but did discuss cleanliness at a couple of hotels.

A few months later I wanted to book a couple of tours with the same company. I received a call saying that the tours I wanted to take involved a lot of walking and I may have problems. What problems I asked. You had problems walking on the last one, he said. (It must have been reported back to tour company by the tour director as trouble walking even though I knew it was an external problem and could be cleared up with proper medication.)

They also said I wouldn't be happy with the hotels. (I only mentioned housekeeping issues and the general beat up conditions of two hotels considering this was an expensive tour.)

I spent a long time trying to convince them to allow to take the tour. That said they would think about. They called back to say they would allow me to take it but they were concerned I wouldn't be happy.

Afterward, I felt nauseous. Why should I have to beg a tour company to allow me to take one of their tours? I called them back, cancelled the tour, took my money to a competing tour company and had a great time.

If you have a pre-existing condition that may cause a medical emergency you should carry some method of alerting first responders whether it be a medical alert bracelet or card. It may also be wise to mention these things to your tour director. But why would a tour company need to know your medical history for a regular tour. I would have no problem answering a question if whether or not I have any health issues that may be a problem while touring but not a request for all pre-existing conditions.

You are not legally obligated to tell them anything. But they are not legally obligated to allow you to take the tour if you refuse to tell them. And if it is for insurance purposes and you need to claim, you could be denied.

Posted by
13 posts

Very illuminating to hear all of your takes on this question. But in response to Tim, the story you reported, while interesting, really has little relevance to the question. The lady you talked about seems to have supplied information about her health prior to the trip. What occurred during the trip seems to have resulted from poor decisions and/or clumsiness, neither of which are pre-existing conditions (well, maybe clumsiness is, but most people wouldn’t think to report that). In any event, while I’m certainly in agreement that consideration for others is an important quality, which, by the way, was instilled in me by my parents when they weren’t congratulating me for my Participation Trophies, I don’t necessarily feel that disclosing personal information, which may be disseminated beyond the operator requesting it, is potentially in my best interest. (If you read the pages and pages of Terms and Conditions that operators ask you to accept, you may see that they assume the right to disclose your personal information to third-party vendors as well as to the governments in the country(ies) in which you’re traveling, along with a warning that these entities may not have as stringent security measures in place as we have in the US. And we know these are breached quite regularly.) So Tim, thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope your next travels are more successful, and I hope your fellow travelers are all in prime mental, emotional and physical health with no spontaneous human frailties.

Posted by
4687 posts

q1730, thank you for your temperate reply. I will note that your short OP asked about legal obligation. I added, let's say, "moral obligation" to that subject. In that sense, what is (quoting your most recent reply) "in your own best interest" ... was NOT what you asked about. Of course it's in everyone's best interest to keep everything they can secret until they see a benefit to disclosing it. (Famous Henry Kissinger quote: "Say No. You can always say Yes later." ) My point was that your best interest is in conflict with the best interests of everyone else on the tour. That's why alluded to the contemporary meme, "It's all about ME."

You are right that Abercrombie and Kent should not have allowed that lady to travel with them. But she satisfied their (insufficient ... ) requirements by providing a letter from her doctor. (I think that may have been required because she was over a certain age.)

Posted by
13 posts

I can't say that I agree that I have a moral obligation to disclose pre-existing conditions, or even so, if a moral obligation would supersede self-interest. Weighing moral obligations against the possibility of a cyber insecurity--I wouldn't say that's a selfish decision, just a prudent one. I can live with my moral choices, which is why I focused on what legal obligations I might have. Had I known in advance that a question about my health conditions would be asked, I very well might have opted to go with a tour operator who didn't ask this question. And I did read the company's terms and conditions first--no mention of this.

But it's quite obvious that you and I differ in our opinion. Please explain, if you'd like, why disclosing pre-existing conditions would be in the interest of everyone else on the tour, after one has already signed up and been "accepted" for the tour. (Your story itself contradicts the value of doing this. The lady you mentioned suffered from ad hoc issues and injuries, not from issues specifically related to pre-existing conditions.) If a tour operator wants to truly protect all of its customers from interruptions and inconvenience, it would ask in advance about conditions and then exclude individuals before accepting their payment. After the fact, if one's pre-existing conditions happen to pose a problem while on the tour, well, then, it's already too late, and everyone else will be inconvenienced, regardless.

I think others who responded indicated that keeping a list of conditions and medications on one's person may be the route I'll take. At least that will be similar to uploading private information, sans the uploading part.

Posted by
206 posts

This isn't a direct answer to the original question, but speaking from (unfortunate) personal experience (and as a health care provider), I strongly recommend carrying a copy of your health conditions, medical insurance information and a list of your medications (the generic, not the brand names) + the generic names of any OTC med you might need to take. In addition, I would upload that information to an internet account that you and (a) family member(s) in the states can access if need be. If your health care provider participates in a system that provides your health summary on a flash drive or DVD, you can go for that option as well. There are also smart phone apps that'll keep your info and family member's info in a way that can be accessed without your phone's unlock code. Rick is fond of saying, "don't overpack, you can easily get what you need in Europe," but that is NOT true when it comes to meds, even OTC meds. Some meds that are OTC in the US are prescription-only in other countries and the name of the med is not going to be the same overseas as in the US. If you get sick at night or on a weekend, don't count on finding a pharmacy open 24/7 and even in big cities, don't count on finding a pharmacist or pharmacy tech who speaks English. And even in England, the generic name for Tylenol is not acetaminophen - it's paracetamol. When you walk into a foreign pharmacy, your best bet is to have the generic name of what you want written down and present that to the pharmacist or tech. (S)he might be able to find a substitute if the pharmacy doesn't have your exact item. If you get a substitute, google it before taking it. I learned that the hard way when I discovered that the usual Spanish remedy for an earwax impaction contains chemicals that you don't want in or on you because they are highly carcinogenic. Finally, pack plenty of hand sanitizer and use it liberally, especially on public transportation and RS buses.
C of David & C.

Posted by
12099 posts

I don't know which big cities are being referred to. In Berlin there is a 24 hr pharmacy every day at Berlin Hbf....very conspicuous......don't know about other cities in Germany or Europe. I had no problems in 2017 getting my prescription med refilled in Berlin but I had to go see a German doctor first so that he could write the prescription (Verschreibung) I needed to give to the pharmacist close to the Pension I was staying. Why? because I failed to bring enough tablets to last me on the trip , miscounted by 50%.

Posted by
179 posts

They ask because they’re responsible for you, morally if not legally, should you require medical care and are unable to communicate with the doctor, or if the condition somehow impacts what you can/should/need to eat/do/not eat/not do on the tour.

I don’t take tours, but when I travel I take a copy of my medication list, health issues, and the contact info for my doctors and emergency contact back home. Should I get hit by a car, a quick search through my money belt will let the doctor know what’s in my system or, god forbid, let people at the consulate know who to notify.

As far as being worried about privacy, I can promise you the tour operator does not care enough to memorize any detail that’s not pertinent to them doing their job. He or she has enough to worry about already.

Posted by
12099 posts

The med for which I needed the prescription is no different from here. That med here is also a prescription med from my doc at Kaiser. Obviously, the pharmacist in Berlin recognised that right away.

Posted by
1840 posts

To where are you traveling? Somewhere remote, or somewhere with lots of modern hospitals?

For two trips, we had to have our doctor fill out a medical questionnaire and declare us fit to take the trips, and I'd have to dig thru old travel records, but I think that also included info re: meds and any pre-existing conditions. But, both of those trips were remote locations (Antarctica and Greenland/Iceland combo with National Geographic). A staff doctor was on board the ship both times. I think even food allergies may have been requested, too.

I remember another trip (on the SeaCloud) where I do not remember having to submit such medical info, but at dinner one night, many of us thought a gentleman had died (or was dying). Luckily his wife was by his side to explain to the on-board doctor (once he arrived in the dining room) what his issue was. Had he been traveling alone (or his wife not handy at that time), I am sure being able to pull info re: current medical conditions/meds would have helped the doctor more quickly know what to do. Luckily, the gentleman was able to bounce back and enjoy the rest of the trip (we heard, but I do not recall, what the medical issue was...maybe low blood sugar or something like that).

If you have nothing highly embarrassing in your medical history, I'd be inclined to provide it, if going to a remote location......or since it sounds like you have real issues with doing so, take the trip independently and not thru the tour operator (who likely just wants staff to be able to respond quickly to help you, should a medical issue occur). Having guests die on tours is not something a tour operator would want.

Posted by
4821 posts

I guess after reading through, as was noted, I would discuss with them the need and concern for the information first, since it does not appear to be a part of insurance coverage.

Second, if you have a condition that may affect the flow of a typical tour, I would disclose that. Examples: Limited mobility or ability to exert yourself; Incontinence or bowel issues requiring frequent restroom stops; Diabetes if you require frequent checks or insulin (I know this is less of an issue with improved monitoring and delivery methods); probably some other examples. You mentioned that your issues were well managed, so this may not be applicable, but if they are noticeable, best to disclose.

Third, if their concern is having the information in case of an emergency, then propose preparing a full packet, but ask that it remain sealed until there is a emergency, and returned to you at the end of the tour.

Posted by
1975 posts

Wow Tim - I had never considered "that aspect" of an African safari until I read your post. That is one less trip on my bucket list!

Posted by
187 posts

The tour operators need to know if you have any medical conditions for very obvious reasons:

If you need to go to the hospital and are unable to communicate they need to be able to tell medical staff what they know about your medical history

If you suddenly start acting out of character they need to know if it’s a medical issue or you’re just acting out if character. If all of the sudden you are talking fast and sweating and not making sense and they don’t know if you’re diabetic they might think you’re high not that you need to get your blood sugar checked immediately (happened to a coworker at a conference, he was taken away in an ambulance when he passed out)

Here is a cold hard truth: no one at the tour company cares about your medical condition outside of how it will impact your tour experience and the experience of the other people. No one is calling coworkers over to read the responses and giggling about who had IBS and tsk tsk about who has High Blood Pressure. It’s asked for a business reason.

Posted by
8609 posts

There is a difference between telling a tour company and telling a tour director.

It is wise to tell your tour director of any problems as they are the ones you will be dealing with in an emergency, not the tour company office. They can also look out for you.

I spent a few seasons working as a tour director. The tour companies never told me about any health issues of my passengers. I would say at our orientation meetings that if anyone had any health issues I should know about to please tell me in private. (As an example, I carried hard candies in case anyone was hypoglycemic or an insulin dependent diabetic. If we had cold drinks on board I would make sure we had a couple of sugary drinks available.)

One of the reasons a tour company wants to know about pre-existing conditions has to do with insurance. If they offer travel insurance, pre-existing conditions may not be covered. The tour companies may also look to see if any of your medical conditions may hinder you from taking a tour. It has more to do with legal issues than anything else.

But definitely tell your tour director.