International SOS

International SOS ( provides healthcare, medical assistance and security services.  They have a global network of clinics, call centers and providers, all to assist travelers and expatriates wherever they are.  According to their website, they have more than 10,000 employees working in 70 countries.  This year, we have been very thankful that Michelin maintains an SOS contract for expats.

Here’s how it works.  We got a membership card as a part of our insurance package here in Shenyang.  If you need medical assistance or security advice, you call one of their local offices or submit a question online.  Someone from their call center calls you back.  They answer your questions, get more information, research it for you, arrange for you to speak to a doctor, recommend a course of action, and/or help you until a solution is reached.

In Tim’s situation, a phone call was made while he was in the emergency room with a broken leg.  A Western doctor called back for more information.  He said that the orthopedists at Shenyang Hospital #2 would perform the surgery just fine, but the conditions and care standards would not be what we are accustomed to.   He explained options for transport to a trauma center in Seoul or Hong Kong.  In the end, we opted to remain in Shenyang, but continued to confer with SOS doctors.  This meant sending them copies of xrays, talking to a doctor on the phone before and after surgery, and ultimately, scheduling follow-up appointments and physical therapy with professionals at their Beijing clinic.

Eight weeks and twelve weeks after surgery, Tim had appointments in Beijing with orthopedic surgeon, Jason Brockwell.  Dr. Brockwell specializes in hip and pelvic surgery and is renowned for his work in Birmingham hip resurfacing, so a spiral fracture was certainly within his grasp.  He was great; confident, knowledgeable, and reassuring in a get-up-and-walk sort of way.  He explained the differences between modern Eastern and Western philosophies for a broken leg.  More importantly, he gave his expert blessing for Tim to start putting weight on his foot.

(Side note:  At the second appointment, we met a guy in a temporary cast in the waiting room.  He’d been in China for almost two weeks, trekking on the Great Wall for 10 days, then broke his leg on a man hole cover in the middle of Beijing.  Welcome to China.)

Tim also scheduled physical therapy at the Beijing SOS clinic on those same appointment days.  Carol, with her lovely Irish accent, did a remarkable job getting Tim past crutches and walking on two feet again.  And she showed us both some physical therapy techniques we could continue at home. This made a huge difference too.  Our experiences at the International SOS Clinic in Beijing were extremely positive.

In a more recent and far less complicated situation, I wanted some advice about my typhoid booster shot.  This vaccine is very difficult to get in Northern China, and is not necessary for this area.  But it is a vaccine recommended for travel to/living in Asia.  Our Global Doctor clinic was having difficulty obtaining the vaccine for delivery in a timely way.  Given our travel plans for the next year, I wanted to know if this vaccine would be more easily available in Beijing, or to know the risks of waiting on the booster.   I went online and submitted the situation to SOS, and asked for professional advice.  The operator from the SOS call center telephoned, asked a few questions, and said she would investigate the availability of the vaccine in Beijing.  Turns out, it isn’t easy to get there either.  So on the second call back, she asked if I would like to speak to a doctor.  I did, and he went through several scenarios, options for what I could do, and shared some anecdotal information.  I was able to ask specific questions related to my health, my travel plans, and this booster.  In the end, we came up with a plan I feel comfortable with, and he told me not to hesitate to call back if I had any more questions.

When we had first learned about SOS, it was at a meeting for Michelin expats back in 2010.  They did a role play to show how it worked.  A French woman called SOS in the evening hours with a scenario of her child having flu-like symptoms, fever, vomiting, etc.  She was connected to a French-speaking doctor who asked questions and made a recommendation.  In any person’s situation, SOS might recommend a visit to your local pharmacy or doctor, they might provide translation services to get the right medicine and care, or they might recommend transport to another medical center.  In Tim’s case, if he had opted for transport to Seoul or Hong Kong, SOS would have requested approval from Michelin, and if approved, then arranged all of the details from one hospital bed to another.

We know of two other expats here in Shenyang who have engaged SOS services for medical advice and assistance; one of whom was hospitalized for a serious infection.   After several consultations, the latter person was transported to the US accompanied by an SOS doctor.

SOS is as easy as a phone call.  It is as simple as a booster shot, or as serious as what we don’t like to imagine.  It is advice and assistance, comfort and reassurance, and quality medical care.

International SOS Beijing – Suite 105, Wing 1 Kunsha Building, No. 16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District, Beijing  100027

Appointments:  010 6462 9112.  24 Hour Alarm Center:  010 6462 9100.  Dental Clinic:  010 6462 0333.