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20% of sailor repatriations are for gastroenteritis. How can telemedicine help reduce this?

Posted on 9th December 2016

The problem

Managing illness at sea is one of the most challenging issues for the modern shipping industry. The Maritime Labour Convention requires all shipping companies to provide medical care that is as near as possible to the equivalent care they would receive onshore. This can often leave a captain in an impossible dilemma when a member of the crew falls ill.

Continuing with a cargo delivery in such circumstances could mean that the crew member’s condition worsens, yet diverting to shore or arranging a medical evacuation could lead to significant costs, delays and loss of future business.

The problem is particularly acute in the case of hard-to-diagnose conditions such as gastroenteritis. A Health Metrics and Futures Foundation study of Filipino sailors in 2015 found that gastrointestinal problems made up around twenty percent of all medical repatriations.

Captains were unable to make a proper diagnosis in cases where a crew member presented with abdominal pain and erred on the side of caution by diverting their journey to get medical assistance. However, in most cases, the patient recovered fully within a day or two of going ashore and the costs associated with diversion could have been avoided.

The solution

One solution to this problem is the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine employs modern communications technology, a range of basic medical equipment and remote medical assistance. Essential medical readings are transmitted from ship to shore, where a trained physician is able to make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

A study by Fathom Shipping in 2013 found that around twenty percent of repatriations for medical reasons, many of them associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, could have been avoided if telehealth had been available. The use of telemedicine can, therefore, lead to significant cost savings, as well as creating a safer and more attractive workplace for crew members, which is vital in the highly-competitive maritime recruitment environment.

The high cost of most telemedicine systems, can, however, be prohibitive to shipping companies, which is why Martek Marine has developed iVital™, a cutting-edge telemedicine solution that can be installed without any up-front capital investment.

Why choose iVital™?

The iVital™ system comes with all of the necessary equipment, including an industrial-quality tablet PC, a blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and IR forehead thermometer. The system is also incredibly easy to use. Wireless sensors are attached to the patient and a medical expert monitors the results via a Skype connection before making a diagnosis.

The iVital™ package is available for a monthly fee and includes immediate access to advice from NHS-trained consultants, the ongoing monitoring of on-board patients, and where necessary, the arrangement of evacuation to an on-shore hospital.

If your shipping operation is not telehealth-equipped, iVital™ will revolutionize the way you safeguard your crew’s welfare. Get in touch with us by email or phone today to find out more or to arrange a demonstration of how iVital™ can save you money and safeguard your crew.