When it comes to travel insurance, no call for help is ever the same. Last year, Allianz Global Assistance received some 56,000 inbound calls, ranging from concierge-type requests for things such as help in finding a destination guide to serious medical issues requiring evacuation.
Kimberly Seay, Allianz's director of assistance, recently discussed what happens on the other end of the phone when an agent or a client calls Allianz's 24/7 hotline.
A registered nurse, Seay's background lies in emergency and aeromedical medicine. Among other positions, she has served as a chief flight nurse for Commercial Medical Escorts and the director of nursing of an emergency department. She compares the hotline to an emergency room.
"It's not the same-old every day," she said. "You never know what you're going to run into, just like the ER."
Seay is based out of Allianz's Richmond, Va., office. Whenever consumers purchase a travel insurance policy, they are given a hotline they can access any time from anywhere in the world. That call is routed into the Richmond office.
But unlike the ER, not every hotline call is a medical emergency.
"When they buy that policy, it's not just all about the medical piece of it," Seay said. "There's a whole realm of things that it could be."
Even so, the medical piece of insurance is crucial, and many of the calls Allianz receives are of a medical nature.
Medical cases can be initiated in any number of ways, she said. A client could call directly, or their travel agent — who is generally the person who sold them the insurance — could call on their behalf. Sometimes, Allianz receives a fax from a hospital.
Whatever the method, a case file is opened, after which an Allianz case manager establishes contact with the insured and finds out detailed information about where they are located and how best to communicate with them.
Then, since Allianz's medical team assesses the patient, the company looks for registered nurses with a minimum of five years of emergency room experience to staff that team.
"What we're doing, it's almost like a virtual emergency room because we're obtaining information without looking at the patient," Seay said.
Allianz also employs six medical directors, who are physicians from the University of Virginia, and a chief medical officer.
"We've got a very seasoned, experienced, tenured medical team who are specialized in aeromedical transports," Seay said.
The first thing the medical team looks at is the client's location and whether he or she is in an appropriate facility. They get a copy of the patient's medical report, as well. Meanwhile, the case manager works with the billing office. Seay said that because Allianz's goal is to provide cashless service, it has agreements with many hospitals that will accept a letter of guarantee from the company in lieu of payment from the client.
Allianz's medical team continues to monitor patients once they are in an appropriate medical facility, and it starts to determine how to get them home. Commercial flights aren't always an option, depending on their condition, in which case they can be evacuated by an air ambulance.
Logistically, Seay said, her team encounters a number of problems but works collaboratively to solve them. The team has the support of 34 offices around the world and contracts with more than 110 "ground agents" who can assist in other destinations. Seay said the team takes a "holistic approach," taking into consideration not only the client but travel companions when making arrangements.
Seay practices what she preaches; she said she and her team are always insured while traveling. She encouraged agents to learn about insurance products and educate their clients, as well.
"They don't want to have to deal with a possible bad situation that their client is going through," she said. "If they're notified by their client, all they have to do is call. They just call in, and we're going to take it from there. It will give them peace of mind."