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Telemedicine make sense for keeping crew healthy and happy

For all you shipowners concerned about the safety, comfort and wellbeing of your crew, I should like to share some information. As you know the Maritime Labour Convention is now fully in effect and this in principle requires that Crew should have equivalent access to medical assistance and services as they might expect on shore.

The problem is of course if you have a multi-national crew what level of service do you provide.  Also with some vessels being chartered and flying different flags, whose legislation do you follow?

Therefore it simply makes sense to implement a common plan across all company’s vessels as you cannot provide different levels for different vessels or different nationalities, or for that matter different levels between officers and ratings.  This is a real dilemma even for those with best intentions.

In addition even besides the fact that it is mandatory, it also makes good sound economic sense to medically look after the crew:

  • A healthy crew is more productive. A sick one expensive.
  • Good reliable experienced crew are expensive to train, keep fit and increasingly hard to find.
  • As vessels spend less and less time in port out of cost and efficiency concerns – shipowners only make money when the ship is moving goods – the crew often do not have time for regular medical check-ups. Thus over time their health deteriorates – especially from countries with a high incidence of diabetes or heart problems from being overweight.
  • A crewmember who gets injured or sick while at sea may require expensive and sometimes unnecessary diversion of the ship and/or hospitalisation, repatriation, and compensation of the crew member in addition to the cost of getting a replacement on board.
  • Life at sea is not easy. Due to the increasingly short stays in ports, and the long absences from home and loved ones, providing someone they can communicate with, on problems they may be facing, will reduce the risk of crew suicides which unfortunately are not so uncommon.
  • Crew feel better looked after & cared if they can have access to a Telemedical service
  • Reducing any of the above costs to the Insurers also has a value.

The excuse for not implementing a proper medical service and follow up  has until recently been that shipowners were reluctant to do this because of the very significant cost of providing  on board medical follow up, easy to use diagnostics kits, and access to a reasonably priced  regular medical service; other than that offered by the TMAS ( Tele-Medical Assistance Service.) in emergency.

This last problem has now disappeared. A Start-up in India called E-Vitalz has now brought a 2000 Euro diagnostics solution associated with a paid service per vessel of 20 crew, at 50 Euro a month on the market. The kit is designed to serve a small community of  20-30 people on a Cargo vessel who are often too far away from medical assistance and yet who require regular medical check-ups, or may have a need for access to emergency medical assistance. It is in short a Diagnostics “clinic in a box”.

It covers the 5 principle life signs ( SpO2, Temperature, ECG, Blood pressure, Blood Glucose, as well providing quick tests for Malaria and Dengue and Troponin I ) . The easy to use single button sensors connected to a tablet that can connect to any Satellite communications device or Cellular Phone with even slow speed data.

It offers multiparty video consultation to a Specialist or the Company doctor who can both be on a call with the captain. All calls are full encrypted ( 256K AES). Still pictures can be taken of things like rashes and injuries, and can be sent to a secure medical record repository web service as an electronic patient record, which can be accessed worldwide. The connected doctor or hospital can receive the life-sign data and test results in real time from the device on board while talking over video conference or text chat. The kit is very small  and stores easily and weighs only around 2.5Kgs. So is highly portable and comes in a rugged pelican case or a soft carry bag.

The company takes security and data privacy seriously and has been certified ISO 27001, HIPAA & GDPR compliant. Medical diagnostic devices used are  FDA / CE  approved.

Other required sensors can be added at additional cost such as 8 or 12 lead ECG, ultrasounds, Spirometer, digital stethoscope, Otoscope etc.

In short for medical diagnostics or even regular medical follow up it ensures a much higher quality of care.

A shipowner can connect the kit to any Telemedical Assistance Services or even their own Company Doctors if desired. The Doctors interface to the tablet and electronic patient records can be in any language you wish and new languages are implementable in a few days.

So this little company has now enabled Shipowners to seriously address this problem. Should you require more information please do not hesitate to request it as we are just as concerned as you about the health of the men and women sailing under our Flag.

Article by: Christopher Henny, Maxess SPRL



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