The first thing a French businessperson taken ill in the Soviet Union may wish to do is place a call -- to Lutherville.
That's the home of MEDEX Assistance Corp., a firm whose specialty is helping companies coordinate and fund medical care for employees who become sick or are injured while overseas.
"We, in effect, provide managed care," MEDEX President John F. Shettle said. "We stay with a traveler until they are back in health."
MEDEX appears to be in good health itself, with an average annual growth rate of 40 percent since 1984, according to Mr. Shettle.
Business travelers under MEDEX's umbrella can contact a multilingual phone coordinator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Among the languages the coordinators speak are Russian, Italian, German and Persian.
The company, which has a data base that includes 9,532 affiliated hospitals and clinics around the world, can coordinate transportation of the ailing employee and let the target medical facility know he or she is en route. In extreme circumstances, MEDEX will even arrange to have the client taken out of the country by air.
Sometimes, getting to a hospital in a faraway land is the easy part, Mr. Shettle said. The hard part can be getting admitted by administrators worried about getting paid. Mr. Shettle said his corporation handles insurance verifications and can wire money to the medical institution through overseas banks.
A 20-year-old company with a worldwide network of toll-free telephone numbers, MEDEX handled approximately 13,000 assistance cases last year, most of them for European business people, Mr. Shettle said.
"About 90 percent of our accounts now are not American," he said. "Americans don't understand, like Europeans do, the value of emergency assistance abroad."
There are only five companies worldwide in MEDEX's line of work, including one near Baltimore named Access America, which is a subsidiary of Blue Cross of the National Capital Area.
Because MEDEX is geared to meet the demands of corporations and insurance companies, it doesn't accept individual subscribers. MEDEX is paid by companies on a per-employee-basis and by insurance firms on a per-insured basis.
With a worldwide client base of 40 companies, MEDEX has 36 employees -- 30 in Lutherville and six in an office in Brighton, England.
The company is a subsidiary of AVEMCO Corp., a financial and insurance holding company located in Frederick, Mr. Shettle said. MEDEX was formerly based in Dallas before its purchase by Avemco in 1983. MEDEX had 1990 revenues in excess of $1 million, Mr. Shettle said.