History of Emergency Medical Care for Merchant Marine
In the last few decades, many steps have been taken to reduce the risk to life onboard a ship. Qualified medical officers have been deployed to reduce the level of risk as much as possible. It is to note that none of these officers are doctors, but only certified first aid and emergency medical care providers. Thus, in case of extreme emergency, all that a medical officer will provide is basic emergency care and some type of medication or sedative to ease the patient’s pain until the ship reaches the next port.
Starting in the 1920s, ship’s radios were used to communicate with a physician located onshore to obtain the right kind of medical aid. However, because of the variability of radio propagation, this system often couldn’t be used beyond a certain range. If the ship was within 200 nautical miles, high speed "life boats" and helicopters were a viable option for saving the distressed sailor. However, in bad weather and beyond 200 nautical miles, even this option could not be used. Also, if a person’s life is in serious danger, there was always an option of diverting the ship, but then the decision would be a serious blow to the company from a financial perspective.
With the advent of satellite communication, ways of providing medical aid to patients onboard a ship also changed. A new term, telemedicine, came into being and started providing remote medical aid to seafarers using high technology such as emails and live video footage. Telemedicine has now become the new face of providing medical aid at sea.