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Telemedicine on Vessels Saves Lives

Telemedicine on Vessels Saves Lives
Tracey Romero • , May 16th, 2017 https://ryortho.com/breaking/telemedicine-on-vessels-saves-lives/

In a recent survey by Nautilus International and Martek Marine, 98% of seafarers agreed that more availability of telemedicine on vessels would save lives.

Maritime professionals’ trade union Nautilus International and global maritime technology company Martek Marine, both based in the United Kingdom, in their 2017 survey asked seafarers about the accessibility and quality of healthcare services onboard seafaring vessels and the consensus was there is a lot more work to be done in this area.

According to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), all ships that carry over 100 crew members and passengers for voyages that last three days or more are required to have a medical doctor onboard. Most merchant vessels however carry less than 25 people and therefore are not required to be staffed with a medical doctor.

Of all those surveyed, 82% said that they do not get the same quality of healthcare at sea that they do onshore and that one of the main reasons was lack of access to a general practitioner.

According to a press release, medical evacuations and diversions at sea are common with 68% of those surveyed reporting that they have been on a ship that was diverted due to a medical emergency and 70% said they have been on a vessel that had a medical evacuation. Common medical emergencies at sea mentioned in the survey ranged from severed limbs and broken bones to tropical diseases, allergic reactions and sudden cardiac arrest.

One seafarer said in the survey, “We divert, speed up, slow down, whatever is needed to help if there is a serious enough medical issue. It’s not always clear how urgent a case is.”

Besides costing the ship time away from their mission, these diversions are not cheap, costing according to the release, $180,000 per diversion. If they don’t call for a diversion or evacuation though then they could be endangering the lives of those who were sick or injured.

More than half of the seafarers said that they would feel more confident about making the decision of whether or not an injury or illness warranted evacuation or diversion if they had a trained medical consultant on the end of the phone. Currently many of them have to resort to diagnosing patients on their own with a copy of the Ship Captain Medical Guide.

“In this day and age, it is crazy that I should be flicking through an outdated book to try and diagnose appendicitis, when there is technology available to let an expert diagnose it for me,” one seafarer said.

Another seafarer suggested, “There should be a means where increasing connectivity can be taken advantage of, like a video chat to enable trained health personnel to see the casualty, or patient and advise.”

Another said that “an instantly advisable system via a video link to a qualified medical practitioner” would be beneficial.

Overall 82% surveyed said that that they would feel safer with ability to transfer live vital signs to a United Kingdom-based medical professional who can diagnose patients and offer advice.

“The survey results show that crew, often with little medical training, are too often left with an impossible decision to make when someone falls ill offshore,” said Paul Luen, Martek Group CEO in the release.

“They’re forced to judge the severity of a condition, typically without the assistance of diagnostic equipment, leaving them with the choice of risking the wellbeing of the crew member, or substantial diversion costs.”