For travelers with health concerns, understanding medical care on a cruise ship may be a vital part of their vacation plans, and health-conscious passengers should always be aware of what medical treatments are and are not available as they travel.
Cruise Ship Medical Facilities
Every cruise ship, large or small, is equipped with a basic medical infirmary for minor injuries and ailments. The exact facilities available vary greatly between cruise lines and even different ships within the same line, and prospective passengers with health concerns may want to double check what facilities are available before they make cruise reservations. Generally speaking, larger, more modern ships tend to have better equipped medical facilities and larger infirmary staffs because they carry a far greater number of passengers on each voyage.
The medical personnel on board - doctors and nurses - are independent contractors rather than employees of the cruise line, which limits the cruise line's liability. At present, there are no international regulations governing cruise ship infirmaries and medical staffing, though each cruise line has its own set of standards provided for the best possible care of its passengers.
Finding a ship's infirmary can be a challenge - because a cruise ship is a pleasure vessel, mentions of medical facilities are generally sparse and understated. Nevertheless, every cruise ship cabin will have the infirmary number posted by the telephone or in the ship directory. Infirmaries are generally located on lower decks so they are more easily accessible by the crew, and they are usually in more stable areas of the ship.
Basic Medical Care on a Cruise Ship
Passengers need to be aware that cruise ships are not floating hospitals. While a cruise ship infirmary can tend minor problems - sunburns, seasickness, scrapes, etc. - more severe emergencies may be beyond the treatment scope of the facility. The infirmary is equipped, however, to provide emergency response treatment to help stabilize patients until they can be transferred to a more suitable facility in port if necessary. Both basic and emergency care are available 24 hours a day, though outside regular office hours the fees for doctor's consultations may be higher.
When the Sick Bay Isn't Enough
In the case of severe emergencies, cruise passengers with injuries or life-threatening illnesses can be evacuated off the ship. This is usually attempted at a port of call, but if that is not possible the ship may request a helicopter evacuation. In some cases, ships may also request assistance from nearby vessels known to have better infirmary facilities.
Medical Care Costs
Medical treatments on land are notoriously expensive, and medical care at sea is similarly pricey. The difference, however, is that most basic insurance policies will not cover treatments given at sea because they are not from the patient's primary caregiver and are not usually within the boundaries of the United States. Extremely comprehensive insurance policies may help defray some costs of medical care on a cruise ship, or travelers may be able to purchase travel insurance plans that specifically include medical clauses.
Fees for medical services vary widely and are set by the medical practitioner. A general consultation may incur a cost similar to an office visit, and any prescription medication, tests, or other treatments will have additional costs. Some infirmaries do supply very basic supplies such as small bandages, aspirin, or seasickness pills at little or no cost to passengers.
Be Your Own Doctor
The best way for passengers to enjoy a relaxing and healthy cruise is to be their own doctors for the voyage. A healthy traveler is less likely to need medical services, and passengers who pack their own bandages, ointments, and over the counter medication can easily treat minor discomforts without a trip to the ship's infirmary.
Passengers with greater health concerns should be sure to pack enough prescription medication for their entire voyage; ship's pharmacies may be limited. Individuals who need specialized equipment such as oxygen may be able to make arrangements to bring that equipment on board for the cruise, even if it is not needed regularly. The cruise line should always be notified about any special needs, such as restrictive diets, so they can help make any available accommodations.
Before traveling, passengers with health concerns should speak with their doctor about care options and recommendations, and they should obtain a complete history of their current treatment to take with them as part of their official documents. This information can be critical in a medical emergency.
Avoiding Medical Treatment
To have a safe and healthy vacation, passengers should take steps to avoid needing medical treatment while on their cruise. For example, passengers with diabetes should be aware of what dessert items are prepared with less sugar and should limit their indulgences to prevent insulin complications. Passengers with heart conditions may want to avoid high endurance shore excursions and cruise activities that may be more stressful. All passengers should take care not to overindulge in alcohol and to avoid too much sun exposure to minimize those health risks.
Medical care on a cruise ship is perfectly suitable for most mild ailments and inconveniences of a vacation, and cruise ships are capable of limited emergency measures to safeguard the health and well-being of their passengers. Passengers with severe medical conditions, however, may want to take extra precautions before sailing to ensure they can have a fun cruise vacation without risking their health.