It is a familiar scenario for anyone who has traveled internationally: You find yourself in a situation where your language isn’t spoken, and communication is a challenge. Hand signals and body language can only go so far, and it is difficult to accurately convey and receive information when such a language barrier exists.
Dr. George Ciporkin encountered such a situation several years ago while traveling in Fortaleza, Brazil. “I walked into a cool art shop in the city that featured works by local artists,” he says.
Intrigued by the art pieces, Ciporkin attempted to ask a store attendant for more information. As a Spanish speaker, Ciporkin hoped that his language was similar enough to Brazil’s primary language, Portuguese, to make a conversation possible. “I soon realized that I couldn’t communicate with anyone in the store, not in Spanish or English,” he recalls. “And later, I asked myself what would happen if I had a medical issue, and I couldn’t communicate my symptoms or my medical history?”
He has an obvious reason to view this language barrier through the lens of a medical professional. Ciporkin, who previously practiced general dentistry in Pennsylvania, is also a board-certified radiologist with a background in academic medicine.
“This experience inspired me to create a product that would empower the traveler by eliminating some of the vulnerability we all face and feel when traveling in a country where we don’t speak their language and they don’t speak ours,” he says.
This is how Ciporkin came to create the Global Health Passport, a paper booklet that conveys the personalized medical history of an international traveler of any age. Each passport has a “base” language of English or Spanish paired with another language: Japanese, Arabic, or Chinese. Ciporkin adds, though, that the passports, first designed in 2016, can be customized for any travel destination.
“We can provide any language that is requested by an operator for tours offered anywhere in the world,” he says.
Each passport is roughly the size of a standard passport and includes three sections: medical history, current medical status, and current dental status. In each section, the traveler simply checks the appropriate yes or no response to a series of medical and dental questions. Each response is paired with the corresponding translation of a second language so that a local medical or dental professional can quickly gather vital medical information in the event of an emergency. The information can also be used in other scenarios, such as when a traveler wishes to share details about a food allergy with a restaurant server.
In an age that is becoming increasingly digital and less paper-focused, a printed booklet might seem to be an anomaly. However, Ciporkin explains it is by design, and with safety in mind. “We strongly believe that patient confidentiality is paramount, and that personal medical information shouldn’t be online, where it would be subject to hacking,” he says, adding that travelers may also choose to affix a personal photo to the health passport so they can be properly identified by medical personnel.
There are other advantages to the paper format. The fact that the health passport can be easily distributed by tour operators to their clients means that the traveler doesn’t have to go through the occasionally cumbersome steps of finding and downloading an app, and then filling out information on their phone or tablet.
But there’s a less tangible advantage as well. “A paper product is a reminder of how personable customer service was prior to the digital age,” says Ciporkin. “The health passport is a way for tour operators to let clients know that their safety and security is paramount, and it’s a way to thank their travelers for their trust and loyalty.”
However, tour operators should consider more than just their current clients when offering the passport. “It’s also a way for tour operators to advertise to future customers that they will have increased peace of mind and health security,” Ciporkin explains. “They’ll have a tangible, personal, and meaningful document they can hold onto while traveling in any setting, no matter how remote it may be.”
He adds that the health passport is intended to be kept in the possession of the traveler, which absolves the tour operator of the responsibility of holding this valuable and sensitive information. Operators who wish to purchase passports for their travelers can expect to receive the booklets within a week after placing the order if it’s for a language of booklets that have already been printed. If the requested language is not in stock, the operator can expect to receive the booklets in three weeks.
This ease of use—and the fact that the information can be translated into any language in the world—is why Global Health Passport joined NTA and FTA earlier this year, with the goal of being a valuable asset to tour operators. Ciporkin says the health passports provide comfort for travelers of all kinds. “It’s like having your own personal doctor traveling with you during your trip.”
Photos submitted by Dr. George Ciporkin