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Telemedicine availability – an essential component for every voyage

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Dr Chris Henny

Telemedicine availability  – an essential component for every voyage

by Dr Chris Henny, Managing Director of  Maxess SPRL

Chris is well known to CIRM companies having been a valuable contributing member for many years at our meetings, workshops, the IMO and ITU etc.

Vital signs and health monitoring, using a Telemedicine system on a regular basis, easily work over all satellite and cellular systems , can help alleviate these problems, and can be a huge benefit both to crew themselves, and their companies, thus allowing for the provision of private, confidential sensible individualized advice to crew members.

By merely monitoring the five main life signs, (1. Temperature; 2. Bloodpressure; 3. Bloodsugar; 4. SpO2; 5. ECG.) plus some rapid tests like Troponin, or malaria and Dengue, early detection of problems can mean less expense and down time, fewer unnecessary vessel re-routings or helicopter evacuations both of which are expensive and dangerous.

Telemedical Kits and services are very easy to use, require minimal training and are potentially a new source of opportunity for equipment and service providers. They also take security and data privacy very seriously, and are certified ISO 27001, HIPAA & GDPR compliant.  The medical diagnostic devices used, are FDA and CE approved. Highly portable they come in a rugged pelican case or a soft carry bag. The kit is very small and light, stores easily and weighs only around 2.5Kgs.

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

Currently available from several CIRM members, kits can cost as little as 3000 Euro.  One example is provided by e VITALZ www.evitalz.com.



The Current global pandemic has now highlighted, the medical impact on seafarers.  Cruise ships and Cargo ships crews are being held on their vessels off shore and have difficulty accessing medical services on shore. Today there are about 1.5 million seafarers, 65,000 vessels, and around 15 public/private TMAS, (Telemedical Maritime Assistance Services) which last year, assisted some 20,000 seafarers of which 2,000 were medevac’d. Some  80% of the seafarers that do get sick and that might need evacuation, are in fact not the result of communicable diseases, but rather  NCD (Non Communicable Disease) such as  Diabetes,  Heart disease, Stroke, and Obesity, in addition to accidents, Malaria, and Dengue. Now they cannot even access doctors on shore and they might not know the quality of the allocated doctor they can visit,  in an unknown land, who does not necessarily speak your language.

Seafarers face numerous problems at sea, which impact their health: Longer voyages and short port stays; extended anchorages, close proximity in confined spaces during a disease outbreak, diets are not always varied enough, exercise opportunities on board are limited, and some nationalities have a higher incidence of things like Obesity or Diabetes. They lack telehealth facility on board.

In this age and technology or even just to remain in accordance with the IMO mandated MLC (Maritime Labor Convention) requirements, ships should now equip themselves with evidence-based hospital-like diagnostics capabilities on board.  Up until recently though, such facilities were extremely expensive, required significant training to use, and were usually only found on ships with larger crew.

There is also the problem, when one has a multi-national crew, as to what quality and level of service does one provide and, with some vessels being chartered, and flying different flags, whose legislation does  one follow?

Most ships have only a basic first aid kit, hardly any ships have approved vital signs monitors, and there are very few crew wellness programs. Some mixed crews even have to report to different Telemedical Assistance services depending on their nationality. It simply therefore 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.

The 24/7 supporting medical service costs less than 100 Euro a month per ship (20 crew), and at the same time the crew member and company gets a digital passport, so doctors anywhere can have access to patient history and any allergies, preconditions etc., before advising treatment.  This also enables the company health officer to look at their seafarer’s continuous wellness records, and gather statistics on vessels and fleet health conditions.

Companies need to consider that it 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 – shipowners only make money when the ship is moving goods – often, the crew does not have time for regular medical check-ups. Thus, over time their health deteriorates.
  • A crew-member who gets injured or sick while at sea may require expensive and sometimes unnecessary diversion of the ship, and/or hospitalisation/repatriation and compensation – Then there is 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, reduces the risk of crew suicides which, unfortunately, are not so uncommon.
  • Crew feel better looked after and cared for if they have access to a Telemedical service and
  • Reducing any of the above costs to the Insurers also has a value in lower premiums.

The excuse for not implementing, a proper medical service for crew, with follow up has, until recently, been that shipowners were reluctant to do this due to the significant cost of providing  an board medical follow up, easy to use diagnostics kit, and Training. There is now access to a reasonably priced  regular medical service (other than that offered by the TMAS Tele-Medical Assistance Service.) for emergencies, so this last problem has now, thankfully,  disappeared

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