Choose Your Companion Wisely

Patients’ companions represent an important source of potential support for patients undergoing treatment. The physical and emotional support they can provide is especially beneficial during the recovery process when patients are at their most vulnerable. In fact, research consistently shows that companion participation in care is associated with positive patient and physician experiences.[1] [2] [3]

The support of a companion or informal caregiver is important in any healthcare setting but is especially critical in the context of medical travel where patients may face additional challenges such as travel, an unfamiliar physical environment, a different culture and potential language barriers.

However, not everyone is ideally suited to being a medical travel companion. While a competent caregiver may improve a patient’s health, one who is less prepared and supported may be detrimental to it.[4] Some spouses or friends may look at the trip as a chance for a free vacation and spend their time sightseeing instead of assisting the patient.[5] Others may nitpick and complain about insignificant details, causing the patient additional stress and worry, possibly even hindering the patient’s recovery.

To avoid these types of situations, which can impact the patient’s experience as well as his or her wellbeing, healthcare providers should take time to educate patients and companions about the role of the latter during the medical trip.

Knowledge broker and advocate

In a study analyzing the roles of informal caregivers in medical travel, the authors identified “knowledge broker” as one of the companions’ key roles.[6] The facilitation of knowledge transfer from medical tourism facility staff to the patient by caregivers is typically done in four ways: inquiry, clarification, translation, and retention.[7] For example, caregivers may inquire about travel logistics or clinical concerns such as prescriptions or care options. Next they may seek to ensure the patient understands the information. In some cases the caregiver may be more familiar with the local language and will serve as an interpreter or translator for the patient. Finally, caregivers will seek to retain information that has been conveyed by facility staff to the patients. For example, being aware of any known allergies the patient may have, carrying a list of the patient’s medications, and being willing to ask questions and take notes on care instructions.

Ultimately, companions should understand that their primary purpose during the trip will be to care for the patient and to advocate for his or her needs. They should be willing to put the patient’s needs ahead of their own and assist and support the patient during the pre-op, treatment and post-op process. In practice this may mean bringing up a grievance to the healthcare provider on behalf of the patient, helping the patient get to different tests or appointments, watching over the patient after surgery or simply offering a shoulder for the patient to cry on. Additionally, and with the patient’s consent, companions should be encouraged to learn about the patient’s condition, the procedure or treatment, and especially aspects related to the patient’s anticipated convalescence and recovery.

All of the above does not mean companions cannot have some leisure time to enjoy the local culture and attractions, however, the companion’s primary job should be to support the patient and look out for his or her wellbeing. GHA believes that educating both patients and companions about the care process is fundamental for providing a safe and positive medical travel experience.


[1] Roseland, Ann-Marie. “Family and Friend Participation in Primary Care Visits of Patients with Diabetes or Heart Failure: Patient and Physician Determinants and Experiences”


[2] Molloy GJ, Johnston DW, Witham MD: Family caregiving and congestive heart failure: Review and analysis. Eur J Heart Fail. 2005, 7: 592-603. 10.1016/j.ejheart.2004.07.008.


[3] Bevan JL, Pecchioni LL: Understanding the impact of family caregiver cancer literacy on patient health outcomes. Patient Educ Couns. 2008, 71: 356-364. 10.1016/j.pec.2008.02.022.


[4] Crooks, Valorie. “You’re dealing with an emotionally charged individual…”: an industry perspective on the challenges posed by medical tourists’ informal caregiver-companions. Globalization and Health.


[5] Ibid.

[6] V. Casey, V. Crooks, J. Snyder and L. Turner. Knowledge brokers, companions, and navigators: a qualitative examination of informal caregivers’ roles in medical tourism.


[7] Ibid.