Why Telemedicine Alone Isn’t Working


Why Telemedicine Alone Isn't Working

For commercial vessels sailing the world’s oceans, access to telemedicine services can be highly valuable. However, telemedicine has limits, and it is proving itself to be insufficient as a sole maritime healthcare solution with no other support.   

Telemedicine is more effective as one element of a total healthcare solution that includes proactive care, regular checkups, and a mix of live and remote support. 

The Limits of Telemedicine as a Sole Solution 

One might assume that telemedicine’s biggest limitation is its remote nature. There is some truth in this, but modern technology allows remote doctors to provide accurate consultations and effective treatment for numerous health problems.   

The main drawback to only offering telemedicine is that it is primarily reactive rather than proactive. The work of commercial seafaring puts crew members at high risk for physical and mental health issues, and reactive maritime healthcare is not sufficient. When crews wait until an injury, illness or mental health event occurs, the damage is already done. At this point, telemedicine can help put a patient on the path to recovery, but it cannot stop the unfolding consequences to productivity, manpower, morale and labour forecasting.   

One research study on telemedicine found it highly effective for certain conditions, such as mental health issues, skin problems and musculoskeletal diseases, but that it didn’t reduce specialist visits for problems with the circulatory and respiratory systems, or infectious diseases. The study did find telemedicine to be an effective gateway to care for individuals, such as seafarers, who have poor access to doctors.   

Another limitation of telemedicine is its impact on patient-provider relationships. One study found that it posed challenges to rapport-building. Effective care is built on trust, and trust is built on communication. However, both patients and providers report challenges to quality communication, attentiveness and relationship-building when telemedicine is the only method of connecting. 

The Potential of Continuous Remote Care 

Continuous remote care is an emerging model wherein patients connect with providers when they need support, rather than at set times. This allows mental health professionals in particular to meet patient needs with more precision and efficiency. The ability to address problems in real time, as they arise, has been shown to improve both treatment outcomes and scalability.   

Continuous remote care is best paired with app-based interventions and self-guided lessons, which are accessible anywhere, anytime, and especially helpful to subclinical patients. Those with more severe issues still need support from a licensed professional, but digital care can reduce the strain on resources and allow fewer therapists to treat more patients.   

Research shows that therapists who combine self-guided therapeutic programs with one-on-one availability can treat up to eight times more patients without compromising clinical outcomes. 

Effective Maritime Healthcare Must be Proactive 

We know that the most important asset onboard, the crew, deserves a best-in-class asset management program that includes predictive maintenance. We believe this approach is the future of total healthcare at sea. The World Health Organization defines “One Health” as an integrated, unifying approach to human health that is sustainable, balanced and optimised.    

For VIKAND, OneHealth represents a holistic approach to supporting crew health and happiness through policies, services, and solutions that promote better physical health, mental wellbeing, nutrition and safety. It is an all-inclusive, proactive and modular approach to onboard health and wellness inspired by our company’s deeply held values.   

In addition to traditional tools for reactive care, OneHealth includes a broad mix of proactive and preventive health and wellness services that seafarers, vessel operators, and shoreside personnel can access day and night. 

OneHealth features and services 

  • VIKAND Connect: A communication app for both iPhone and Android. 
  • Emergency Care: 24/7 emergency and urgent care support from shoreside medical professionals. 
  • Ashore Crew Medical Support: Assistance for crew members receiving shoreside medical care. 
  • Emergency Mental Health: 24/7 access to mental health professionals. 
  • Mental Wellness Awareness & Learning: Online mental health training and education tools for crew members. 
  • Monthly Medical Checkup: Monthly calls between vessel command and a dedicated shoreside doctor to discuss crew health issues and medical needs. 
  • Chronic Disease Management: Ongoing remote support designed to optimise health and reduce sick days for seafarers with chronic conditions. 
  • Annual Wellness Review: A combination of self-assessment via telehealth and comprehensive medical consultation creates a clear picture of crew health. 
  • Healthcare Risk Prevention: A proactive approach to health care risk reduction through procedures, plans, audits and training. 
  • Mental Health PEME: Comprehensive mental health assessments for both new crew hires and those who’ve been medically debarked. 
  • Medical Chest Supply & Management Service: Planning, sourcing, and inventory management for all medication and health supplies. 

More Tools to Promote Health and Wellbeing 

Because OneHealth is focused on prevention, it offers a number of proactive lifestyle interventions for crew, such as smoking cessation, alcohol reduction, sleep hygiene, regular exercise and more. Other solutions include air filtration systems that can improve both air quality and fuel efficiency.   

The goal is to reduce onboard health and safety incidents and their associated impact, from costly diversions to reduced productivity. Investing in preventive healthcare and proactive improvements to safety, nutrition, air quality, sleep, fitness, lighting and more can help improve crew recruitment, retention and satisfaction, providing strong benefits to both seafarers and operators. 

Building on the Power of Telemedicine 

As more commercial shipping operators come to see the benefits of proactive care, the limits of telemedicine alone come into sharper focus. As a tool, telemedicine is useful for closing geographic gaps and creating a one-on-one connection between patient and caregiver, but realising its full potential is only possible within a strategy of proactive prevention supported by a broad range of tools and services.   

Instead of relying only on reactive care, a total health and wellness solution must be calibrated to proactively address the full spectrum of issues that may negatively impact seafarer wellbeing. In fact, this should be the goal of commercial maritime writ large, as the industry’s long-term viability depends on protecting its most valuable asset – the crew members who make every voyage possible. 

Subscribe to our VIKAND Pulse to receive the latest maritime healthcare news from VIKAND sent right to your inbox

Subscribe to our VIKAND Pulse to receive the latest maritime healthcare news from VIKAND sent right to your inbox

Subscribe to our VIKAND Pulse to receive the latest maritime healthcare news from VIKAND sent right to your inbox

Subscribe to our VIKAND Pulse to receive the latest maritime healthcare news from VIKAND sent right to your inbox
Subscribe to our VIKAND Pulse to receive the latest maritime healthcare news from VIKAND sent right to your inbox