Medical Travel

NWT patients, on average, may need to travel between 10 and 20 times from their communities for cancer treatment(s).

We know that for women living in the NWT, traveling for treatment and staying away from home is one of the most stressful parts of the cancer journey.  This is especially true for those living in remote communities who may need to take several planes to get from home to Edmonton or Yellowknife for their treatments.  Added to the stress is the possibility of being away from home, staying somewhere unknown, and then having to return home, often feeling unwell and vulnerable following a treatment.

Your healthcare provider, your assigned Medical Travel Officer and the Cancer Care Navigators are there to guide you through the stressful process of traveling for a medical appointment.

Who Arranges My Travel

NWT residents can access medical travel in different ways:

  • your employer’s medical travel benefits program, or
  • you qualify for Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) if you hold a Treaty or Status card, or
  • you hold a valid NWT Health Care Card and no other medical benefits, or
  • you have private health insurance.

Your healthcare provider will fill in the necessary forms to request your medical travel for your appointments and treatments. You will then be contacted by the person responsible for arranging your travel and accommodation. Here is the Government of the NWT’s Medical Travel Guide (2017) for all the tips, tools and information:

When a medical appointment outside your community is being arranged by your healthcare provider, it is important that you ask about a travel escort. For more information, see the sidebar on travel escorts.

It is good to know that travel arrangements for medical are often complicated and can change at the last minute, for example: weather delays, appointment changes, your ability to travel…. Be prepared for things to change.

Before your travel:

  • Make sure you understand your condition and the appointment or treatment you will be traveling for;
  • Learn as much as you can about who to contact at various stages of your travel, for example who to contact at Medical Travel if travel arrangements need to be changed;
  • Make a list of necessary names and phone numbers to keep readily available, including Medical Travel contact, accommodation details, dates/times/location of appointments, doctor/clinic contacts, NWT Cancer Care Navigators, Northern Health Services Network (Edmonton), and any others you will need when away from home;
  • Have proper identification for travel and your appointments, this includes photo identification (status card, driver’s license or general identification card) and NWT Health Care Card, plus any important documents from your healthcare professionals and your medical travel forms.
  • prepare for travel, for example: pack a carry-on bag for the plane with all your personal effects (documents, identification, wallet, medications) and a bag with everything you need for your stay;
  • confirm your travel with Medical Travel prior to your departure date.

All this necessary travel information can be kept in your Survivor Care Plan or a folder or binder.

In our recent survey, NWT Breast Cancer Journeys Project, most patients were positive about travel arrangements and the various people responsible for helping them.

Where will I stay?

In Yellowknife and Edmonton there are specific medical boarding homes for Indigenous patients with a medical travel referral from their healthcare provider; Vital Abel House (N’dilo) and Larga House (Yellowknife/Edmonton).  Non-Indigenous patients are able to stay at Larga House in Edmonton or accommodations (hotels or suites) close to the medical facilities in Yellowknife or Edmonton. Government of NWT employee benefits allow for accommodations other then boarding homes.  For the appropriate accommodation options and what will be covered in terms of expenses, speak to your employer or your representative from medical travel.

Another option in Edmonton is Compassion House. a charity providing low cost accommodation for women from Alberta and NWT who are traveling for cancer treatments at The Cross Cancer Institute.  If you want to stay there, you may need to make your own arrangements and reclaim the cost.  Talk to the person arranging your travel if you would like to stay at Compassion House.

It is also possible to stay with family or friends, if you prefer. Let your medical travel representative know.

Some Advice about Travel & Accommodations

  • Take your medical travel form to all your appointments. Before you leave your appointment, don’t forget to get it stamped or signed. And, keep all your receipts required to make your claim for you and your travel escort.
  • There is an allowance for food and essential travel. The person arranging your travel will give you details of what you can claim and how to do this.
  • In Edmonton. cancer treatment is at the Cross Cancer Institute and travel between there and the medical boarding home is arranged as part of your stay. If you are staying at another accommodation, there are driving services available for patients, but you will have to make the arrangements a couple days ahead of time or you can take a cab or public transportation. Keep your receipts to claim on your medical travel form. In Yellowknife, the boarding houses provide transportation or you can take a cab. Note: if you are getting surgery it might be at another hospital in Edmonton.
  • If you are bringing your own favourite foods or prescription medicines from home, make sure you have enough for your entire stay.
  • On your flight, you can take liquids in carry-on bag only if they are 100 millilitres (a small bottle) or less.  If you have special drinks or liquid medicine that are greater in volume, they need to be carefully sealed and wrapped in your checked baggage.
  • You are especially vulnerable to infections while having chemotherapy, you might like to take liquid hand sanitizer (less then 100 ml) or wipes and perhaps, a face mask to protect against colds and flu from other passengers.
  • Ask for an official letter from your oncologist, which states that you are receiving cancer treatment and what kind of treatments you are receiving for your cancer. Carry the letter with you at all times so that if you are taken ill or need to check into Emergency, the healthcare providers around you will be better able to help.  It will also be useful to explain any medication that you may need to take as carry-on onto the plane.
  • When you arrive home, contact your local healthcare provider within 48 hours to let them know you have returned. Don’t forget to send in your medical travel form and receipts, as it does take awhile to be reimbursed for your payments.

If you are dissatisfied with the medical travel decisions or treatment, there is an appeal process you can access, see the attached policy (2019). If you have any other advice that you think would be useful about medical travel, please email us!

Travel Escorts

Who can be a travel escort?

  • The escort can be anyone you choose. It is usually a friend or family member who you trust and can rely on to give you practical help and emotional support.
  • If you do not have anyone to act as escort, someone else may be able to help in some circumstances, such as – in Yellowknife – a liaison worker or a Cancer Care Navigator or Oncology Social Worker.

It is best if your escort is someone who is not afraid of hospitals or medical treatments and feels able to ask questions of doctors on your behalf and can read/understand forms.

A travel escort is a non-medical person who accompanies you on to your medical appointments outside your community.  A travel escort is a trustworthy and responsible person who can help you with emotional and physical support.  They can be a family member or a close friend.  Here are the NWT guidelines (2019) for a patient to request a travel escort: 

~is over age 65 or under 19, or
~breastfeeding an infant, or
~has difficulty caring for themselves (mental or physical disability), or
~needs an interpreter, or
~has cancer and is going for an appointment for:
                      -diagnosis or,
                      -first consultation to discuss treatment plan, or
                      -first consultation with oncology, or
                      -surgery, or
                      -radiation or chemotherapy if personal care is needed.

What does the travel escort do?

  • Help with transportation to and from appointments.
  • Take notes at appointments, help you remember to ask questions and/or ask questions for you.
  • Interpret, where necessary.
  • Care for you after treatment, and during the journey home.
  • Provide emotional support,
  • Help with filling out medical forms, as required,
  • Be able to take time off of work or be away from family.

You and your travel escort should discuss in advance what you want them to do.  For example, go through with them the list of question you have for the medical team and give them a copy. Being an escort is a big responsibility for your family member or friend. Your healthcare worker can help them prepare for your appointments and/or advise them how best to help you afterwards.

How do I get a travel escort?

  • Ask your healthcare provider for a travel escort as soon as you know you will be traveling for a medical appointment outside your community.
  • Many women also feel they need an escort when they are travelling for surgery. Be sure to ask for this as soon as you know you need surgery.
  • If you feel you need an escort later in your cancer journey, for example, for a later chemotherapy appointment because of side effects, ask your healthcare worker at that stage.
  • If you feel you need an escort but it may not fit within the Medical Travel guidelines you can still ask, your healthcare worker so they can make that application to Medical Travel.