Travel Healthy Month: Cruise Ship Emergencies
Last week, MedFlight911 shared some tips for how you can stay safe and healthy on your next cruise. Today, we thought we'd discuss what to expect if you do experience a medical emergency while on a cruise.
First, it's important to realize that all major cruise lines have well-equipped medical centers on their ships. The medical centers are usually staffed by one or two doctors and a team of nurses. Inside, you'll typically find exam rooms, beds for patients, many common medications, cardiac monitors, EKG machines, a digital X-ray machine, and lab facilities, among other resources. While the cruise ship medical center isn't a full-fledged hospital, it is similar to a well-equipped urgent care center, and the staff there are capable of treating minor injuries and illnesses as well as many (though not all) serious injuries and illnesses.
But what happens if you do have an incident on a cruise ship that requires medical attention? If it's a relatively minor incident, you can make an appointment to see a doctor or nurse. Care is also available 24 hours a day. (Although care is available around the clock, the medical office may not be open and staffed 24hrs a day. In those cases, you would need to contact Guest Services.) In many cases, the team on board will be able to provide the treatment you need. Using the latest technology, they can also communicate with specialists on land to help diagnose and treat your condition. In cases of severe injury, they may even ask for help from other passengers. On one recent cruise, a man severely injured his hand. The medical staff on board didn't have the skill to treat the injury themselves, but they thought there was a chance that a passenger on board might be able to help. Fortunately, not one but several orthopedic surgeons were on board, and they were able to care for the patient until he was transferred to a hospital.
In the unlikely event you can't get the care you need in the ship's on-board medical center (or if you're simply too sick to remain on board), a couple of things may happen. You may have to disembark at the next port and receive treatment there. Many cruise lines have arrangements with local hospitals and they will refer you to a facility if one is available. Once there, however, you'll probably be on your own. You'll need to figure out how to pay for your treatment (your insurance may or may not cover the foreign hospital stay) as well as how to get home, perhaps with the help of an air medical escort or an international air ambulance. While your probably won't find yourself in this situation, emergencies do happen, and this is why we suggest everyone who is traveling abroad, even on a cruise, purchase travel insurance.
If your condition is very serious, or the next port does not have adequate medical facilities, evacuation via air ambulance may be your only option. This happened earlier this month when the Coast Guard had to evacuate an ill passenger from a cruise ship off the New Jersey coast.
Serious medical emergencies at sea are relatively unusual, but given the huge number of people that cruise every year, they are bound to happen. While cruise lines are well-prepared to manage most situations, every passenger should be prepared for the possibility that they may need to be evacuated from the ship if it is medically necessary. Understanding what kind of care is (and isn't) available is important, as is purchasing travel insurance that will cover an air ambulance trip, so that you can enjoy your journey knowing you are prepared for every possibility.