In the age of COVID-19, telemedicine can help re-establish ferry customer confidence
The experience of Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess stranded off Japan’s coast early in the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the industry. Vessel operators and specialist healthcare providers are now adapting to entice passengers back.
VIKAND, a healthcare provider working with more than 200 cruise vessels, has wasted no time. It worked with Knud E. Hansen on Phoenix World Village to develop a design for the most hygienic of ships. An air sanitisation system uses similar principles to NASA spacecraft, and there are quarantine and isolation zones, as well as upgraded medical facilities.
VIKAND CEO, Peter Hult, believes the most straightforward way of reestablishing customer confidence is through telemedicine, based on easy-to-use apps and reliable satellite broadband. He says: “It’s true that early telemedicine solutions for ships in the 1990s and early 2000s were suitcase-sized, expensive, difficult to install and set-up, and complicated for crew to use in a medical emergency. The concept was sound, but the technology simply wasn’t ready for implementation.
“But telemedicine has come of age with the arrival of ‘plug-and-play’ connectivity at sea and the emergence of smartphones to which medical sensors can be attached.”
VIKAND’s solution is embedded on Inmarsat’s servers through the satellite operator’s Certified Application Provider (CAP) programme. This means the link to shore-based medical professionals is always-on. Hult says: “The connection is seamless and always ready, which is crucial; the last thing crew want in a medical emergency is to waste valuable time trying to establish a remote connection.”
VIKAND is also taking advantage of the dedicated bandwidth available on Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress and FleetBroadband networks, for applications that cannot be constrained or interrupted by, say, passenger web- browsing or operational traffic.
Hult adds that the pandemic struck shortly after VIKAND became a CAP Partner. “We’ve supported crew and passengers on many ships in dire straits, whether at sea or in port – wherever they have been unable to get medical assistance or let people ashore.”
Instant access is particularly relevant to ferries, where medical officers may have little hands-on experience of life-or-death situations. “We are ready to step in as an urgent care facilitator,” says Hult. For larger ferry operators, VIKAND can help further by liaising with medical facilities at ports on regular routes, coordinating care until the patient can be transferred ashore.
The company is already setting up facilities at major turnaround ports across Europe as part of the EU’s Healthy Gateway programme’s response to Covid-19.
“Ferry operators and cruise lines rely heavily on reputation for repeat business,” says Hult. “In these times, the travelling public needs reassurance.”
VIKAND provides global medical service solutions to 200+ cruise ships and supports 120,000 crew medical and mental wellness needs with onboard and onshore medical staff. Vikand’s proven medical expertise and experience is demonstrated through many challenging onboard and onshore crises requiring the teams’ direct involvement. Solutions encompass 24/7 medical management, public health, consulting, biomedical equipment maintenance and sales, and leading air and surface decontamination solutions. VIKAND recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and is currently a finalist for the Seatrade Cruise Awards as Supplier of the Year 2020.
Read the full Autumn/Winter 2020 Cruise & Ferry magazine here.