Modern Technology Helps The
Tradition of "Snow Birds"

“My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned sixty, and that’s the law.”
Jerry Seinfeld

The snow flurries have yet begun to stick to the ground, and the migratory pattern of the Great North American Snow Bird begins to shift in a southerly and westerly course, making a path towards California, Arizona, and most assuredly and especially, Florida. The average “nesting” period for folks from Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and even the farthest reaches of Canada, will be about three to five months. Once they’ve landed, some of their favorite past-times include walking along sandy-white beaches that feel like talcum powder underfoot, along with playing endless rounds of golf, swimming in the warm Florida surf, and sunning themselves on days that native Floridians consider cold and overcast. There are migratory pattern alerts and updates for the I-95 and I-75 corridors, along with a daily RV count. Evidence of their arrival has very obvious signs… increased traffic and full restaurants can be spotted everywhere, as well as overcoats and sweaters being molted for t-shirts and shorts.

The colder weather up north also signals an increased workload for medical professionals south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Medical aficionados affectionately refer to the medical offices, hospitals, and clinics of Florida, California and Arizona, as “Medicare Hubs.” If you consider yourself to be a “snow bird” on the migratory pattern towards one of these warmer states, you should know that Medicare is hard at work, upgrading their database, in order to help make life a little easier for seniors who become ill when they’re away from home. The renovations to the database will assist medical professionals and healthcare providers in checking the status of insurance coverage for patients from anywhere in the country. This will enable accurate confirmation of addresses, including those addresses used for only part of the year, easing the burden of proof of coverage for “snow birds.” Although this “overhaul” with the database may worry some about “Big Brother” being flagged to particular, individual information, people are being assured that the new and improved database will not include their medical records, maintaining medical privacy. In fact, the long-range goal for these improvements is for a single, comprehensive database to be created for all those enrolled nationally, in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Some of the worst problems of the past, such as the inability to correctly track the coverage of Medicare beneficiaries, as well as private insurance responsibilities, and the crosschecking of dual eligibility of persons entitled to both Medicare and Medicaid, will hopefully be eradicated. While the improvements do not include the ability for healthcare providers to directly access information, it does allow them to send e-mails to Medicare regarding proof of specific coverage. While this sounds like the confirmation process will be no quicker than in the past, the fact that all needed information is now in one database will decrease research time considerably, making certain functions easier to track. When you consider how much time and money will be saved in the long run, the six million dollar price tag for a database renovation of this size is relatively cheap.

It’s good to know that our government is doing something to improve the flow of healthcare information for so many people, especially “snow birds,” but what about medical dilemmas on a local level? What does happen if one becomes ill while so far away from home? Many “snow birds” do not have a physician in Florida, California, or Arizona, so when medical problems occur, the situation can quickly reach beyond just the need for a doctor. Aside from calling 911, how does a “snow bird” access immediate medical attention? How can a “snow bird” be sure that the physician that he or she is about to see is qualified, or even someone they would want to see under non-emergency circumstances? One solution is to contact a good home health agency in the area where a “snow bird” would be residing for the duration of the winter months. Some home health services can even come to the home, usually the same day they receive a call, to assess medical problems and needs. Many family members become long-distance caregivers when their loved ones leave for winter homes elsewhere, so working with a reliable home health agency can take some of the worry away from the caregivers. In fact, home health agencies can arrange for local caregivers to take care of the “snow birds” in their own home, helping to alleviate a long-distance caregiver’s concern over whether they need to travel to another state, leave other family members and their job behind, to check on their loved ones. Home health agencies can also help by making a list of medical supplies that may be needed for the home, and arrange for these items to be picked-up and delivered, as well as arrange for doctor appointments, transportation, and the contacting of family members that may live elsewhere, keeping them up-to-date on the condition of their loved one. This can offer everyone peace-of-mind, knowing that professionals are handling a medical crisis until the situation stabilizes.

But before leaving for their winter haven, “snow birds” should be absolutely aware of what type of medical coverage and health insurance plan they have; many plans will only pay for “emergency” care when away from home, and once the situation has subsided or stabilized, the plan can require the patient to travel back home in order to see their primary care physician for any further medical treatment for the condition, other wise, it may not be covered. Keep in mind that the insurance company decides the definition of what constitutes an “emergency”, and not the patient, so a risky chance is being taken if the patient isn’t absolutely sure about what the guidelines are of their insurance company and medical coverage. Also remember that the money spent on having to travel back home is the sole responsibility of the patient.

Many “snow birds” may develop early stages of different diseases and illnesses, and with time, it becomes much harder to predict what course the illness will take when the symptoms are beyond onset. The existence of illness and disease and changes in symptoms don’t detour the “snow birds” from returning to their winter homes, so it’s even more important for medical information to be maintained and accessible. But some of these folks may have huge medical charts, and they certainly don’t want to take the chance on losing vital information when traveling, so what can they do to ensure they have access to all their medical information at all times? The following is considered “vital information” by healthcare professionals, and is necessary to obtain before treatment can begin:
- primary care physician contact information
- drug and food allergies
- pre-existing medical conditions
- medical devices
- blood type
- medications
- past surgical procedures
- all information pertaining to insurance plan

Snowbirds can risk receiving inaccurate treatment in an emergency because their personal medical information is not available or up-to-date. Thanks to computer technology and the art of databasing, several “online” services offer a way for all medical records and insurance information to be easily accessed by any doctor’s office or hospital in the country, and in time, through out the world. Some of these companies have been around for several years and are quite experienced at handling sensitive, confidential information. One must consider all the different places their medical chart could be – in the primary care physician’s office, a specialist’s office, hospitals, clinics – all these places have various filing systems, and to “quickly” locate a file can be nearly impossible. That’s why online medical filing services are gaining in popularity, because all needed medical and insurance information is kept in one, single database – a very similar concept to what the government has done in updating the Medicare/Medicaid databases. A reason as simple as a doctor’s office being closed can hamper the ability to obtain vital medical information, but with online accessibility, there is no “closing” time, no “weekend”, and no “vacations.” A patient can even access their own medical chart online, helping to remove the cloak of mystery that seems to surround most medical records. This type of modern technology not only helps “snow birds,” but also is helpful for business travelers, vacationers, and exchange students.

So the “age of technology” meets the traditions of a time-honored, right-of-passage – the winter migration of the “snow bird.” Not only has the computer helped to uphold this tradition, but the improvements made in obtaining vital medical information on both the government and local levels, have helped to make the experience that much safer, and also helps in easing the worries of loved ones left up north.

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