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Technology driving maritime healthcare says Vikand

Fred Olsen/Vikand Fred.-Olsen-BUPA-2.jpg
A holistic approach to seafarer mental and physical health boosts recruitment, retention, and improves health outcomes, according to Vikand.

Vikand is a maritime medical and public health company with its roots in the cruise industry and covers well over 200 ships from 32 cruise lines with 290 staff onboard ships. The company is looking to apply its remote healthcare experience from the cruise sector to commercial shipping.

While the two industries may differ, Vikand CEO Peter Hult told Seatrade Maritime News that their staff understand the particular challenges of being at sea better than land-based telemedical companies. “Our nurses and doctors are used to treating their friends and colleague on cruise ships. They know how it is to be far away from family, they have a compassion for seafarers,” said Hult.

Vikand’s approach to health is a holistic one, said Hult, covering mental and physical wellbeing, case management, claims management, medical escorts, training and education, telemedicine, equipment supply and onboard public health policies.

By developing technology to enable two-way video communication on limited bandwidth, Vikand said it enabled monthly video house calls to the ship as well as emergency calls. During the doctor’s house call, questions are asked about health of the crew, any accidents or injuries, and use of medical equipment. Over time, these calls build up a picture of the overall mental and physical health of the crew using an algorithm.

The house calls are also an opportunity for chronic disease management for issues like diabetes and high blood pressure, something Hult said is important morally, but also has economic benefits.

“80% of all deaths in the maritime industry due to illnesses are due to chronic diseases and my golly we can reduce that tremendously,” said Hult. Managing such conditions properly leads to lower risk and fewer diversions and lost days, he added.

“Many ship owners tell me their pre-employment medical examinations mean they don't take anyone with any pre-existing conditions. How many thousands of years of experience have been lost as a result of that policy?

“What you should do is not exclude; you should include and then use the nine months when people are on board ships to help them to improve and change their behaviour to become a better seafarer when they leave them when they join,” said Hult.

While mental wellness has become well established in the corporate world ashore, Hult believes it is less well established in the maritime sector.

“The point here is not that we should have big expensive wellness programs. It can simply be that we encourage people to drink a bottle of water a day. That simple next step can have a profound impact on the totality of their wellness. Our goal is not to take things away. Our goal is to include new things,” said Hult.

Food was another area of focus for Vikand, said Hult, and the company plans to support cooks to create better and more diverse meals.

“If you have a ship with good food, you have a happy ship, if you have a ship with bad food, you have a bad ship… On a ship with good food, they all sit around the table they have they have communion together and they resolve problems and the release relationship amongst themselves becomes better. So it all it is actually all about the food,” said Hult.

On the mental health front, Hult said that companies introducing suicide hotlines for staff were getting to the problem too late. Through training for captains and senior management, and easy to access communication for seafarers, Hult believes proactive early intervention is the best approach, with a pipeline of support in place for seafarers and their captains.

The COVID pandemic has accelerated the public health work Vikand was already doing for its cruise business, said Hult, and Vikand’s teams have extensive experience working with COVID regulations around the world, including informing regulations for the shipping sector.

Hult said he believes that Vikand’s expanded services can be had within existing budgets by spending those budgets more wisely. “We believe that as a result, the number of serious medical incidents will be reduced by 75% and the number of ship diversions by 1/3. And that equates into an enormous amount of money saved, not to mention the fact that the goods actually get to their destination on time.