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Health on the High Seas: Medical Care on Cruise Ships
What to Expect From Onboard Medical Facilities
"Reasonable" Emergency Medical Care
- One or more doctors and nurses
- Cardiac defibrillators
- External pacemakers
- EKG and x-ray machines
- Stretchers and wheelchairs
- Immobilization equipment for back and neck injuries
- Medical facilities
- Water supply
- Food preparation
- Filtration of spas and pools
- Employee hygiene
- General cleanliness of the ship
- Ventilation systems to keep the air clean
Medical Care Cruises
Before You Go
- Check CDC sanitation scores—Before you book your trip, review the cruise line's score on the Vessel Sanitation Program's website.
- Check the CDC's travel health website for any health and medical information you will need.
- Pick your cruise line and ship carefully—Stick with cruise lines that are CLIA members. Ask the age of your ship and the cruise line's country of origin. The newest ships usually have the best medical facilities. North American and European ships are the most likely to have English-speaking medical personnel.
- See your doctor—Have a check-up 6-8 weeks before your trip. Ask your doctor about any precautions that you should take.
- Read your insurance policy—Check with your provider regarding coverage. If you will not be covered while onboard, consider buying supplemental health insurance.
- Research travel insurance—Find out if travel insurance is right for you. Depending on the policy, this type of insurance can protect against vacation pitfalls, like cancellations and lost luggage. You can also buy medical travel insurance, which covers emergency evacuations and hospitalizations.
- If you need special equipment, research rental companies—Online you will find companies that rent all types of medical equipment. If you need a motorized scooter, for example, it can be delivered right to your cabin.
- Notify the cruise line—You are responsible for notifying the cruise line of any pre-existing medical conditions, including pregnancy.
Bring medical records and supplies—Bring the following on your trip:
- Copies of medical records listing your current medications and dosages, blood type, allergies, and immunizations
- Extra prescription and over-the-counter medicines
- Contact information for your home doctor and next of kin
Cruise Lines International Association http://www.cruising.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Service Canada http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca
About us. Special Needs at Sea website. Available at: http://www.specialneedsatsea.com/index.cfm/about-us. Accessed January 16, 2014.
Advanced cruise ship inspection search. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionSearch.aspx .Updated January 6, 2010. Accessed January 16, 2014.
Health care guidelines for cruise ship medical facilities. American College of Emergency Physicians website. Available at: http://www.acep.org/content.aspx?id=29980. Updated February 2013. Accessed January 16, 2014.
Maritime illness and death reporting system (MIDRS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionGreenSheetRpt.aspx. Updated January 6, 2010. Accessed January 16, 2014.
Vessel sanitation program. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/desc/about%5Finspections.htm. Updated August 21, 2013. Accessed January 16, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 01/2014
- Update Date: 01/16/2014