Imagine being out at sea when suddenly your crewmember begins feeling weak and complains of a faint pain in his chest. When someone falls ill or is injured at sea, time, information, and support are crucial. This is a situation that requires “Telemedicine.”
Telemedicine is the term we use to describe telecommunication and information technology that helps provide clinical health care from a distance. It is a crucial service for those who work at sea and has saved countless lives in emergency situations.
In the past, radios and telephones were used to deliver information and messages. Now, via cell and satellite technology, physicians can use iPhones, iPads, photos, and video technology to diagnose and sometimes treat patients remotely.
Alaska Maritime Physicians is an Anchorage, Alaska based health care organization that provides services to recreational and commercial maritime companies. They have partnered with DrChrono, a software company that has developed a web and cloud-based platform for doctors and patients to coordinate connected care services. This new and improved platform means better communication between health care professionals and vessels.
“Our niche is urgent and emergent telemedicine,” said R. Scott Lord, Vice President of Operations for Alaska Maritime Physicians. Their clients include processing vessels, commercial barges, small fishing vessels, in addition to entire fleets. “When we get a call, it could be anybody. It could be a captain on a really small fishing vessel with no training and zero resources or someone on a 100-person (vessel) with resources. It’s hard to get a really good Internet connection out there,” Lord notes. “The barrier we’re dealing with every day is equipment and connectivity. And when you’re doing triage, you want that connection to be good. They need to give care; they don’t need to be fighting with technology.”
Documentation and HIPAA compliance are also hallmarks of the new DrChrono platform. Health information can now be safely stored and retrieved, and these records can be made available for insurance claims or to identify trends and safety issues.
Daniel Kivatinos, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at DrChrono envisions a future where toolkits of apps, hardware, and IoT (Internet of Things) devices can help everyone quickly connect to Electronic Health Records. Being able to share information with specialists in other locations will allow us to create real-time global health care networks.
Alaska Maritime Physicians has helped more than 350 callers since going live on the new DrChrono platform last year. Cases have involved broken bones, illness, lacerations, and other serious medical emergencies. The new platform allows better communication with those crewmembers on board a vessel. This, in turn, offers better outcomes as crewmembers can obtain needed information. Often, minor injuries or illnesses are not attended to until a vessel returns to port. Delaying health care can cause greater health issues and create complications later.
Telemedicine is a cost-effective and efficient way to deliver medical care to those who work at sea. With digital healthcare information and communication advances, we can all count on better outcomes in the future.