What Happens If You Become Ill While Cruising

Caribbean cruiseCruising is both an enjoyable and affordable way to travel. But illness isn’t planned and it can interrupt your holidays. What happens if you need medical treatment while on board?

I recently had the pleasure of sailing on the Navigator of the Seas with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and decided to research this very question. What I found was impressive.

To begin my research, I headed to the ship’s medical clinic, where I spoke with Kobus Bronkhurst M.D., one of the two physicians on board. The doctor, a native of South Africa, assured me that the ship’s facilities were fully equipped to deal with most emergency situations.

The Navigator Clinic, like most large cruise ship clinics, has a five-bed unit, with one bed available for “high care” patients and another designated for intensive care. The medical staff’s goal is to stabilize the patient for the short term until they can be transported to a hospital in the next port.

A helicopter pad on the ship can be used to transport trauma patients. However, most of the basic technology necessary to sustain life is available on board. X-ray technology is also available, as well as lab testing (including blood chemistries).

The medical team on board the Navigator consisted of two doctors and three nurses, all ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) certified.

One additional comforting thought is that if there were an emergency on board, the ship’s medical team could respond even faster than an ambulance on land.

Those guests who require oxygen have two choices. They may bring their own oxygen or arrange for a company to deliver it to their room. Royal Caribbean cannot arrange this, but will provide individuals with names of qualified companies who work with them. Either way, Royal Caribbean needs to have advance notice to obtain clearance for onboard oxygen tanks.

For those on dialysis, traveling can be difficult, but it’s not impossible – especially with cruising. Persons on peritoneal dialysis can arrange for a company to deliver supplies to their room. Again, Royal Caribbean can provide them with a list of companies. Guests need to contact Royal Caribbean ahead of time to gain clearance for the supplies.

Since hemodialysis needs to be administered by a health care professional, Royal Caribbean suggests using Dialysis at Sea. Dialysis at Sea provides a Nephrologist and one to four nurses per cruise depending on the number of dialysis patients. Visit www.dialysisatsea.com to receive more information on the cruises available.

Guests who forget their medications at home can request an emergency replacement or alternative from the clinic’s pharmacy until the ship arrives at the next port where the prescription can be filled.

Because of the number of insurance companies worldwide, guests need to pay onboard medical charges out of pocket (or have it charged to their onboard account) and then get reimbursed by their insurance company later.

Cruising is an excellent way to travel for many reasons. But should a medical need arise, a cruise ship is not a bad place to be. However, be sure to check out your cruise line before traveling, as facilities vary. Ask your travel agent to help you select the cruise line and ship that best suits your medical and physical needs.

Happy Cruising!

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Janna Graber

Senior editor Janna Graber has been covering travel for more than a decade. She has traveled to 38 countries -- and counting.
Janna Graber
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