In 2021, the number of ocean cruise passengers worldwide was around 4.8 million. Some cruises last a few days, others can last for weeks or months as these ships travel across oceans.
Looking at these statistics, it is easy to imagine that some passengers on board these ships will get sick or injured. Common health problems at sea include seasickness, food poisoning, influenza and regional infections.
The environment inside some ships, including the materials used to build those ships, can also create a health hazard.
For example, some older ships contain asbestos, heat-resistant insulation and fireproof materials that can cause diseases such as mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer.
Fortunately, in accordance with numerous safety standards, modern cruise ships no longer contain asbestos.
However, since doctors often diagnose mesothelioma at a later stage, it is better to see your doctor regularly.
Are you interested in how cruise lines manage their passengers’ medical needs and emergencies at sea?
You may be wondering what technologies cruise ships have that can help with medical emergencies and the treatment of illnesses onboard.
This article explains how cruise ships provide medical care to passengers at sea. It will also discuss the various medical technologies that cruise ships can use to provide medical care in the event of an emergency or to treat illness.
How cruise ships provide medical care at sea
Cruise ships usually come from different countries. So there are no common standards for the ship’s minimum standards for doctors, medical staff or medical equipment.
Factors such as passenger capacity, ship size, itinerary, staff and facilities may also affect the ship’s medical needs.
Despite these challenges, medical personnel on board these vessels must provide appropriate emergency medical care. This care includes stabilizing the injured or ill traveler until the ship arrives in port so that the traveler can receive final treatment at a shore-based health facility.
Most cruise ship infirmaries should have at least the following:
- One or more doctors and nurses
- wheelchairs and stretchers
- Immobilization devices for neck and back injuries
- cardiac defibrillators
- External pacemakers
- ECG and X-ray machines
As cruise ships continue to grow and medical technology improves, some ships have been equipped with telemedicine capabilities. Doctors on board the ship can connect with specialists on land via a digital system and exchange video links and data.
Another concern is the possibility of disease outbreaks due to a spoiled food supply or an infected person. These outbreaks can affect many people, especially those who are in a confined area like a cruise ship.
Cruise ships must comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program in the United States to prevent or reduce the possibility of outbreaks.
This program requires ships carrying more than 13 passengers, visiting a U.S. territory or port, and sailing on an international itinerary to be inspected for compliance with the following:
- medical facilities
- employee hygiene
- food preparation
- water supply
- General cleanliness of the ship
- Pool and spa filtration
- ventilation systems
The program scores each ship from 100 points and gradually deducts points based on violations. Ships with a score of 86 and above pass inspection.
If you plan to travel on a cruise ship with a good sanitation record, you should check the reviews of those ships on the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program website before booking your trip.
Medical technologies to deal with emergencies and medical conditions at sea
Many modern cruise ships have state-of-the-art medical facilities that meet or exceed sea health standards.
For example, some new cruise ships carry EKG (electrocardiogram) machines, defibrillators, digital X-ray machines and ventilators for respiratory diseases. On other ships there are even dispensaries with a complete stock of medicines, especially for seasickness.
One technological advance that has given cruise ships a significant advantage is telemedicine.
Telemedicine uses telecommunications technology and electronic information to provide the appropriate healthcare while on board a cruise ship. The basic requirement for telemedicine is a phone or stable internet to continue your medical care.
Benefits of telemedicine include:
- Consultation with your healthcare provider via phone or live video call
- Communicate with your doctor by sending and receiving messages via email or a chat messaging platform
- remote monitoring of patients
- Saving travel time and transport costs
- Reduced waiting times for emergency or medical services
- Reduced frequency of visits to the clinic
Telemedicine can also offer cruise ships the opportunity to offer the following healthcare services at sea:
- prescription for medicines
- General health care, including blood pressure checks, spa visits and consultations for non-emergency illnesses
- COVID-19 screening, testing recommendations and guidance on quarantine or isolation
- nutritional advice
- psychological counseling
To learn more about what to look out for when providing medical care on board a cruise ship, read the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Health Guidelines for Cruise Ship Medical Facilities.
- Number of ocean cruise passengers worldwide from 2009 to 2021
- Health on the high seas: medical care on cruise ships
- What is telemedicine in a non-US environment
- Health Guidelines for Medical Facilities on Cruise Ships