Smooth Sailing ~ Cruise Lines and Medical Tourism a Budding Relationship

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Cruise ships such as those from popular cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival are designed from hull to mizzenmast to provide complete luxury and comfort for every passenger who steps foot on deck. As established travel venues cruise lines are immensely successful with reliable track records of safety and satisfaction that appeal to potential travelers which is why cruise lines were such a hot topic at this years World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress.


The subject of incorporating on-board medical treatments into cruises was brought up and thoroughly discussed by two prominent figures in the industry: Dr. Arthur Diskin Vice President and Global CMO of Royal Caribbean and Dr. Mohammed Saeme International Expert on Maritime Health and Wellness. Both speakers gave very frank presentations on the topic in which they discussed both the opportunities and limitations of medical tourism at sea.


The cruise industry is a special part of the travel industry explained Dr. Saeme. The main purpose of a cruise ship is leisure and vacation  the medical services we currently have are primarily for emergencies.Most cruise ships are currently equipped to handle medical emergencies that may occur at sea while onboard medical staff direct their efforts at the stabilization of injured or ill passengers Dr. Saeme said.


Incorporating medical tourism into cruise lines would not be overwhelmingly difficult  with almost entire decks already allocated for the purposes of emergency care and spas outfitting a cruise ship with additional resources for procedures commonly undergone by medical tourists could just be the next logical step.Many of the cruise lines already subcontract with vendors who provide minor aesthetic procedures on board Dr. Diskin said.


The applicability of performing more complex procedures on board has been proposed at a theoretical level.Already available on most cruise lines are many cosmetic and wellness treatments such as botox therapeutic massage acupuncture and dermatological procedures. All of todays cruise ships have a spa for relaxation and pampering though a few have started to venture further than basic beauty treatments Dr. Saeme said.


Dr. Diskin cited Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as an example pointing out that the cruise line conducts 34 remote dermatological consultations each month and utilizes the most current telehealth technologies including digital x-rays and electronic medical records.Royal Caribbean has also proved itself capable of conducting more complex procedures while traversing the oceans through its relationship with Dialysis at Sea.


I do foresee [Dialysis at Sea] going worldwide Dr. Diskin said. It allows us to take dialysis patients who wouldn be able to cruise otherwise.As various cruise line corporations begin to test the waters of medical tourism experienced industry players like Dr. Diskin and Dr. Saeme are weighing the pros and cons.On the positive side for one cruise ships operate under international maritime regulations.


The advantage of international regulations is they allow us to hire capable people from all nations Dr. Saeme said giving cruise lines their pick of the globes best medical personnel. This also opens up many treatment options for traveling patients seeking procedures unavailable in their own country.Dr. Diskin elaborated on the recuperative opportunities that cruises offer medical travelers explaining that a patient who travels to Costa Rica for an operation can board a cruise ship for a very calm pampered ride home.


Cruise lines are a definite potential provider of services of the rehabilitation component he said. Patients can travel home safely and comfortably in an environment catered to meet their post-operative needs.However there are certain aspects of the cruise experience which are not exactly conducive to complex surgeries. Unpredictable weather limited space and distance from mainland medical centers all make for a less than ideal environment in which to conduct lengthy or dangerous operations.


In addition to these limitations both speakers emphasized that incorporating medical tourism into the cruise industry is a work-in-progress.This will take great cooperation between the cruise lines to build a network between medical providers and hospitals Dr. Saeme said. In my opinion we need some work before we really target this market.Dr. Diskin stressed the importance of seeking out medical professionals as partners in any cruise-based medical ventures so that each party is able to focus on doing what they do best: Were not in the medical business were in the tourism and travel business.


Though there is much work to be done the opportunities are appealing. There is already evident success for simpler out-patient procedures and even if receiving a quadruple bypass at sea never becomes a viable option recovering from one in the luxurious atmosphere of a beautiful cruise ship likely will be.