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New pre-study: healthcare can be better on board

09 August 2021

The pharmacy needs to be modernized, while medical records and advice can be improved. A new pre-study from Lighthouse states that the rapid development of healthcare that has taken place ashore has not benefited shipping.

On land, emergency medical care is never far away and there are usually opportunities to reach the sick or accident victim via both ambulance and helicopter. At sea it’s different. Emergency care is usually performed by staff with limited medical training without access to modern technical aids such as ECG meters, defibrillators or automatic blood pressure monitors - there is no requirement for such equipment.

“Shipping has also not kept up when it comes to new digital technology such as video support and apps, which is used quite frequently ashore. These types of solutions are could really be very useful at sea. Being able to communicate via video I think could increase patient safety”, says Anna Sjörs Dahlman, a researcher at VTI and Chalmers, who led the work on the pre-study.

Due to regulations this is not possible. Swedish vessels must, regardless of where they are in the world, use the Telemedical Maritime Assistance Service (TMAS) for medical advice. The telephone service, which is provided by Sahlgrenska Hospital, has about 60 doctors attached. Some are on call often, others less often.

- Not everyone has the knowledge of what can be done on board a ship and when evacuation is necessary. Those responsible for TMAS at Sahlgrenska University Hospital have, however, made an improvement proposal to introduce a separate emergency line with fewer doctors in order to obtain a higher quality of medical advice.

The doctors also want to start keeping medical records with personal information on board, which is not done today. This would facilitate the continued need for care and also provide an opportunity for follow-up of cases.

What about the availability of medicines on board? It is often good, but the basic requirements that apply to the ship pharmacy are outdated and need to be reviewed.

- There are requirements that certain old medicines must be available, despite the fact that they can be difficult to obtain and that new ones work better. This is governed by international rules. With national rules, you can add medicines but not deduct any.

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