Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via telecommunications technologies such as phone or video messaging. In this way, clinical health care can be provided from a distance.
Pros and Cons
Telemedicine clearly has its advantages in urgent situations at sea where quick decisions are required to ensure accurate and timely care. There is also an advantage to using such technologies ashore – in remote ports it can be problematic and expensive to make long journeys to a large city and it could be argued that most treatment can be discussed and advised upon via remote means.
Furthermore, recent developments in mobile collaboration technology allow healthcare professionals in multiple locations to share information and discuss patient issues as if they were in the same place. Remote patient monitoring through mobile technology can reduce the need for outpatient visits and enable remote prescription verification and drug administration oversight, potentially significantly reducing the overall cost of medical care. This is especially useful if the patient is being treated for an infectious condition, effectively keeping the patient in self-imposed quarantine.
The downsides of telemedicine include the high set-up costs for data management equipment and training of medical personnel in the technical aspects of using such equipment. Virtual medical treatment also decreases human interaction between medical professionals and patients, potentially introducing an increased risk of error in diagnosis.
It has been argued that telemedicine may actually slow down the process of diagnosis and treatment. The increase in time spent deciphering badly transmitted images or poorly written progress reports could have an adverse impact on efficiency and even result in misinterpretation of results. Other obstacles include unclear legal regulation for some tele-medical practices and difficulty claiming reimbursement from the insurers of government programs in some fields.
Modern telemedicine also runs the risk of private and confidential data or information being compromised. Data breaches and cybercrime are a topical and recurring issue in today’s interconnected society.
Presently, services that provide traditional radio medical advice to ships, such as Centro Internzionale Radio Medico (C.I.R.M), tend to err on the side of caution. For example, rather than allow a grumbling stomach ache to continue, they are perhaps likely to recommend immediate medical care in case the grumble is actually appendicitis. While this is undoubtedly disruptive to the ship’s schedule, it does save lives and it is a brave Master or shipowner who would ignore the more cautious approach.
It is recommended that the first point of contact is the radio medical company usually used for medical emergencies. If a specialised telemedicine provider is also available then there will be the benefit of two sources of advice for reassurance.
Author: Abbie Rudd