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Planning a cruise? How to prepare for a health problem

Written by Diane Archer

Each year, about 30 million people take cruises. And, thousands of them catch a stomach flu or suffer an injury. Kaiser Health News reports on how best to prepare for a health problem on a cruise.

Before signing up for a cruise, make sure that the cruise ship is well prepared to address a wide range of medical conditions. It’s not uncommon to catch a virus or otherwise get quite sick while on a cruise. Cruise passengers may get the norovirus or something far more serious. Their chronic conditions may worsen and need expert attention. Or, they may take a bad fall.

You should make sure that you have health insurance coverage for medical care you need while on a cruise. Medicare only covers your care in the US. If you don’t have coverage, you should understand how much you could be liable to pay out of pocket. Emergency evacuation costs from the cruise ship or a port to your hospital could be tens of thousands of dollars.

If you need health insurance coverage, you probably should investigate trip insurance. Often, cruise ships sell trip insurance. But, you may get a better deal from an independent agent. Talk to your travel agent about your options.

If you fall or are in any accident, make sure someone takes videos or photos of your injury and the area of the accident. Request a copy of your medical records if you get care on board the ship. And, even if asked by the cruise ship, you do not need to explain how you might have avoided the accident.

The good news: It is legally required for all cruise ships to have at least one “qualified medical professional” on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The bad news: The question is whether that medical professional is equipped to address a stroke or a heart attack. And, you may need to be very persistent if you want to see a doctor.

US cruise ships with 250 or more passengers must have medical facilities, including an exam room and an intensive care room, as well as the ability to process lab work, monitor vital signs, and provide prescription drugs.

But, cruise ships will never have the medical expertise or technology available in a hospital. Their medical team may not even be qualified to work in an emergency room. And, even the biggest cruise ships may only have their medical facilities open for limited periods of time each day.

Moreover, cruise ship medical personnel, though qualified to practice medicine in the US, may not be fluent in English.

If a cruise ship suggests you get off the boat to get medical care, you should only do so if you believe you will get the care you need at the port of disembarkation. You can refuse to disembark if you believe you are better off remaining on board the boat.

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