Medical training required
has led to a partnership between the race and PRAXES, a telemedicine provider based in Canada but available worldwide.
However, as Dr John Ross, medical director for Clipper Telemed points out, voice communication is only one aspect of how telemedicine can be utilised. “I was speaking to one of our small boat clients recently. He suspected one of their crew had suffered a stroke. Considering the symptoms and age, this sounded plausible.
“I asked the crew to email me one picture of him smiling and another of him not smiling. With this, and some other tests, we were able to rule out a stroke. The gentleman concerned actually had
Bell’s Palsy, a condition where some of the facial nerves go to sleep. I think, more than anything, the combination of voice and email communication bought them all piece of mind.”
Any sailor can access advice from a doctor 24/7 by calling the UK’S Marine Rescue Coordination Centre at Falmouth, from anywhere in the world. However, the scope to deliver more advanced levels of care, and so the outcome, can depend heavily on what is carried on board and the confidence of the crew to carry out some basic medical procedures, such as giving injections, themselves.
Nigel Betts, an experienced amateur sailor currently preparing for the ARC and Oyster World Rally, has observed how far telemedicine has advanced since he raced in the 1996 Global Challenge. “We saw a lot of injuries in the Southern Ocean,” he recalls. “Preparing for this adventure, I did the MCA’S ten-day first aid course, purchased a range of drugs, and also bought a defibrillator. The drugs were provided by ANP Pharma, a specialist pharmacy catering for the marine market. I also subscribed to the Clipper Telemed+ service. It was competitively priced and I think you’d be verging on the irresponsible to embark on a circumnavigation without it or something similar.” However, a telemedicine service is no replacement for training. Carrying prescription drugs on board is something any sailor can do, but the medical professional signing the prescription must be convinced that the individual the prescription is written for is suitably trained.
Susie Plume says Adina’s medical set-up has evolved since Tom’s illness, but they had completed specific training well before they slipped lines three years ago. “We undertook a two-day bespoke medical course organised for us by Stormforce in Hamble. We agreed the content with the instructor in advance. With our first aid training already covered, the course was a cut-down version of the longer Medical Care Course and focused on more advanced training including learning how to suture wounds, give injections, use syringes and needles, make basic examinations. We also revisited CPR.
“For the drugs that were prescription-only in the UK we saw a private doctor and once he was satisfied we had an adequate understanding of the drugs and training to use them he wrote us a private prescription for everything we wanted. This included an array of antibiotics, steroids, strong pain relievers, tranquillisers, eye medications and more. I then created a spreadsheet to track all of the drugs and their expiry dates,” explains Susie.
Many sailors put together their own offshore medical kits with the help of a pharmacist or doctor, but those provided by companies such as MSOS, Clipper Telemed, and Medaire, promise more than a supply of drugs not available over the counter. “As sailors and consultants working in emergency medicine, we understand the environment that sailors are operating in, and make sure we understand the profile of the yacht to which we have supplied the kit,” explains Dr Biggs from MSOS. “We appreciate what they are capable of achieving in an emergency and the kits are laid out in a way that makes them easy to use,”
Price dependent on level of telemedicine service Left: Medical training is highly recommended before setting sail for remote destinations or ocean passages
William Bruton, 27, grew up in Lancashire and learned to sail in
2012. He now works as a freelance skipper all over the world, specialising in Oyster yachts. He is currently based in Japan.