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Communicating with Your Doctor at Sea – Part I

Communicating with Your Doctor at Sea – Part I

At PersonalCare helping patients navigate the healthcare system or addressing immediate concerns is routine. Once in a while, we are fortunate to help with unique requests as our doctors work to customize a health and wellness strategic plan for patients – even if that plan is the trip of a lifetime. Follow us over a three-part series as we describe how Dr. Song works with a Captain and his companions to prepare for a worldwide trip at sea.

This past Thursday, I accompanied our Dr. Ellen Song to the shipyard on Lido Island. The captains, a husband and wife duo, greeted us aboard the sailboat as the sun emerged from Southern California’s May Gray afternoon weather. Dozens of ships around us were being welded and painted, but it grew quiet as we climbed down below into the cabin. I soaked in the gleam of brightwork and thoughts of the simple, adventurous life in this small space.

“This would be a good place to lay someone down in a medical emergency,” Dr. Song pointed to the kitchen table. “The floor right here would work well too, but when the person is elevated it’s much easier to move them around when needed,” she finished. We all nodded solemnly in respect for the imaginary, hurt patient on the table. Dr. Song had arranged this visit to help the couple with medical preparations for their crew and passengers. They have coordinated a year-long trip at sea for a family, sailing with a 2-man crew, and are responsible for the safety of everyone on board.

Key Considerations when Managing Medical Emergencies at sea

  • Cellular at Sea plans work for cell phones when coastal, but you rely on satellite when away from cell phone towers
  • Satellite communication at sea can delay transfers by 1 minute and cost as high as $5-$10/min
  • Sail Mail optimizes e-mail communication over satellite, but broadband is limited
  • General broadband plans manage 10MB at a time, enough for a few pictures via e-mail, but not video

They led Dr. Song and myself straight to the communication system. What I thought would be a quick tutorial on how it worked, turned into a brainstorming session on protocols for communicating with Dr. Song depending on the type of medical problem they might face. I have been on backpacking trips before when I couldn’t get a cell signal, but I could still text or use a SPOT for life-threatening emergencies. I had never thought about the strong infrastructure on land that supports our ability to communicate in the remotest areas, but that infrastructure in the open water is still catching up.“This would be a good place to lay someone down in a medical emergency,” Dr. Song pointed to the kitchen table. “The floor right here would work well too, but when the person is elevated it’s much easier to move them around when needed,” she finished. We all nodded solemnly in respect for the imaginary, hurt patient on the table. Dr. Song had arranged this visit to help the couple with medical preparations for their crew and passengers. They have coordinated a year-long trip at sea for a family, sailing with a 2-man crew, and are responsible for the safety of everyone on board.

Dr. Song finished the tour up by going through four to five large medical packs. Specialized for fluids, fractures, general medication, and cardiac events, the medical packs were well-organized and vacuum-packed. They were ordered from the same company that supplies for commercial flights to handle the most likely emergencies. Dr. Song will modify the medical equipment to address anyone’s specific needs after the passengers complete their scheduled physicals.

 

Stay tuned for our next step in travel preparation: A Class for the Crew on Splints, IVs, and Ear Infections

 

 

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