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Many Indigenous peoples live in remote areas where specialized healthcare services are not readily available. This means traveling to other communities or even outside their territories for medical appointments and treatments. This article delves into the logistical challenges of healthcare access for these remote communities, shedding light on the journey, obstacles, and support systems in place to assist them.

Medical travel is essential when a person needs to leave their community to receive medical services not available locally. This can include visits to specialists, specific treatments, procedures, routine check-ups, dental care, emergency care, mental health services, or other types of medical care. For Indigenous communities in remote locations, such travel is often a necessary part of accessing what we consider basic healthcare.

Getting Referrals and Appointments

The first step in medical travel is securing a medical and travel referral from a primary healthcare provider. This referral is essential for making appointments with specialists or other healthcare professionals located outside the community. The referring healthcare provider will coordinate with the specialists to schedule the necessary appointments, ensuring that all medical documentation is in order to facilitate the patient’s travel and treatment.

Applying for Medical Travel Benefits

Once a referral is obtained, the next step is to apply for medical travel benefits, often through a government authority. Various programs provide financial assistance for medical travel, but eligibility criteria differ based on the resident’s status and location. For example, the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program provides medical travel benefits to eligible First Nations and Inuit residents. Applicants must provide documentation supporting their need for medical travel and meet specific criteria set by the program.

Many regional or indigenous health authorities across Canada have developed local programs to offer assistance to their communities in providing access to NIHB services including medical travel. They will typically help in scheduling appointments, arranging travel and paying for services, which may then be claimed back from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) as defined by terms of various contribution agreements.

Travel and Accommodation Logistics

The journey begins with transport from home to the nearest airport or transportation hub. This leg of the trip often involves significant distances and may require multiple modes of transportation. Ensuring reliable and timely transportation is crucial, especially given the tight schedules that medical appointments often demand.

Upon arrival at the destination airport, patients typically require transport either to a hospital or clinic, or to an accommodation facility. Accommodation is often provided by boarding homes, also known across Canada as ‘Largas’ or ‘Friendship centers’ – facilities specifically tailored to meet the needs of Indigenous patients traveling for medical purposes. These facilities provide a comfortable and supportive environment for patients and their escorts, offering amenities such as nutritious meals and language services. They also offer emotional and cultural support, which is vital for Indigenous patients who may feel isolated far from home.

Patients need transportation to their medical appointments. This often involves a coordinated effort to ensure patients arrive on time and have the necessary support during their visit. In many cases, transport services are arranged by the Larga or the healthcare facility to streamline the process and reduce stress for the patient.

Additional Challenges

Several additional challenges can complicate medical travel.

Personal/Medical Escorts

Patients may need to travel with escorts, such as family members or caregivers, to provide assistance and emotional support. This is often the case for elders, who might never have traveled outside their community. Traveling with children adds another layer of complexity, requiring additional planning and resources to ensure their well-being throughout the trip.

Health Conditions, Disabilities and Special Requirements

Patients with disabilities or special needs such as oxygen face extra hurdles during medical travel. For example, wheelchair users often need specific transportation, which involves additional costs and logistical considerations, such as arranging for accessible vehicles and ensuring proper seating arrangements on planes or other modes of transport.

Patients with allergies or special dietary requirements must navigate the challenge of ensuring their needs are met while away from home. This often involves coordinating with accommodation staff and healthcare providers to prevent health complications related to their diet or allergies. Some Largas even offer country food, the traditional Indigenous cuisine.

Addressing these challenges is critical to providing equitable healthcare access for all patients.


After the medical appointment or treatment, the journey isn’t over. Follow-up care is essential to ensure the patient’s recovery and ongoing health. This involves returning home with all necessary medical documents and prescriptions. Additionally, patients must keep receipts and travel documents to apply for reimbursement of travel expenses. This administrative task is crucial for those relying on medical travel benefits to cover their costs.

Streamline your medical travel management

Nomadis is committed to addressing the logistical challenges associated with medical travel. Our platform handles everything from travel requests and approvals to bookings and accounting reconciliation, ensuring no detail is overlooked. By integrating with clinical systems and various travel providers, it ensures safe and efficient travel for patients and their escorts. Additionally, it reduces paperwork and enables healthcare staff to dedicate more time to patient-focused activities.

Book a demo today to learn more about how Nomadis can enhance your medical travel processes.

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