While getting sick or injured is not on your cruise itinerary, it does happen. But you might not know what the cruise medical clinic is capable of handling. It’s important to be prepared and be aware. The medical staff on board is trained to handle non-emergency and emergency care. Our veteran cruise expert, Buck Banks, breaks down what you should know if you do get sick or injured during your cruise.
1. Emergency Care
Commonly treated emergency injuries or conditions include cardiac arrest, broken bones, sprains, head injuries, and dehydration.
In general, most cruise ships have a healthcare facility with several beds to treat emergency cases. They are equipped, like most emergency rooms, with X-ray machines, defibrillators, and ultrasound machines.
Most cruise ships are equipped with telemedicine facilities that allow the shipboard medical staff to consult with shoreside doctors on appropriate treatments.
In emergencies, the staff’s goal is to provide initial care and stabilize the patient in order to facilitate moving them. Typically, if possible, it is preferred to transfer an ill or injured guest off the ship at a port of call with appropriate medical facilities.
Banks indicates that in some cases that is not possible and guests are medevaced via water ambulance or helicopter. Generally, if you are sick or injured enough to be evacuated from the ship, it is unlikely that you will rejoin it. In terms of returning home, that is usually accomplished with an air ambulance.
2. Non-Emergency Care
Banks says they can also treat a variety of non-emergency conditions. He received treatment for a sinus infection on a Princess ship once and was given antibiotics and some interesting nasal treatments that were common in the UK, but he had never seen them before.
On another occasion, he was accompanying a media group when a journalist who was allergic to shellfish was accidentally exposed during a meal at the buffet. He accompanied her to the infirmary where they administered medications specific to her condition and she was able to avoid serious symptoms.
3. Prescription Medications
It can happen to any of us: We forget our medications at home. Thankfully, the doctors on board can help.
Pharmacy On Board
The ship’s medical staff can prescribe medicine. There is a pharmacy that can fill prescription orders as well as offer common over-the-counter cold and flu meds. They have common generic prescription medications for short-term use.
Pharmacies On Shore
Guest services and the medical staff can help facilitate filling your full prescription at a port of call. If you have a chronic illness like diabetes and use insulin, ask your doctor to write you a prescription before your cruise in case you forget your insulin at home.
Pro Tip: Keep a list of medications, supplements, your medical insurance, and travelers’ insurance with you. You can also take pictures of the items and keep them on your phone to show the medical staff.
4. What Can’t Be Treated On Board
Most ship infirmaries are not set up to treat chronic illnesses such as kidney disease. However, there are special cruises designed for people with chronic kidney conditions where dialysis machines are brought on board to accommodate regular treatments.
Pro Tip: Dialysis at Sea is a service that works with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise lines to offer dialysis during your cruise.
5. Most Common Onboard Injury
The most common type of injury on a cruise ship is a slip and fall due to the wet decks and stairs. Banks suggests always using handrails on stairs and watching for signs indicating steps, uneven decks, or a spill indoors or a wet deck outdoors. Always be aware that you’re on a moving vehicle at sea. Although you’re on vacation, pay attention and take it easy.
6. Medical Staff Qualifications
Medical staff, both doctors and nurses, are usually trained, accredited, and licensed in emergency care. Banks says the licenses will vary, according to where the staff hails from, but on most ships operating out of U.S. ports, it’s a U.S. accreditation. According to Carnival Cruise Lines, a typical medical team consists of two doctors and two to four nurses.
Typically, you will be charged to be seen by the cruise medical staff. The cost is typically billed to your room and varies depending on if you go to the clinic during regular hours, after hours, or if the doctor visits your room. Check your health insurance before your trip to see what is covered and what is not.
8. Travel Insurance
Banks always recommends picking up travel insurance, especially if you will be cruising abroad. He suggests checking to make sure it covers transportation (both on land and by air), emergency room and hospitalization, as well as medications and accommodations for those traveling with you.
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