Seafarer study examines health care complaints, medical needs

Reliable data on health care for the 1.2 million seafarers worldwide is hard to come by, so that’s why a provider of international maritime medical management services is teaming up with Yale University to study injuries and illnesses of crewmembers on board bluewater vessels.

Future Care Inc., a New York-based health care service provider for vessel operators, is working with Yale’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program to study more than 7,000 health care incident reports from its Caring for the Crew program. The program provides health services to mariners at sea and manages shore-side medical care.

“The goal of the study is to identify the biggest medical problems and risk factors so that we can optimize health care for seafarers and minimize costs for everyone involved,” said Dr. Carrie Redlich, professor of medicine and director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program at Yale.

Because Future Care coordinates primary care and not just emergency response, the database includes requests for physician advice while the vessel is at sea for common ailments, as well as requests for medical examinations and appointments on shore, and coordination of care for long-term illnesses and injuries. The injuries and illnesses range from minor infections and cuts to cancer and catastrophic injuries.

This study is a pilot designed to help researchers understand the information available and to know what additional information may be needed for future research. The pilot study will not include research into fatigue or circadian rhythm issues.

Christina DeSimone, president and chief executive of Future Care, would like crewing agents to join the study and provide information on their crewmembers so there’s a broader scope of data available to the researchers.

“Crewing agents have a lot of statistics that don’t get into the public domain so their information would be invaluable,” DeSimone said.

The study will analyze the medical complaints logged in the Future Care database between 2008 and early 2012 to look for trends based on factors including nationality and rank of the crewmember, port of call, type of treatment utilized, registration nation of vessels and demographic information about the seafarers.

Redlich said personal identifying information will be removed to protect the seafarer’s identity.

The study could be valuable to companies responsible for seafarers’ health. Genco Shipping & Trading Ltd., a Future Care client, operates 74 dry bulk vessels staffed by 1,700 seafarers, primarily from the Philippines, Ukraine and India, according to President Robert G. Buchanan. He said the study would help vessel operators go above the basic ship’s medical chest requirements.

“Based on the study they can look at the medical chest and tell us things we should include,” Buchanan said. “If that helps the seafarer’s health when he’s on board our ships, then we will be happy to do that.”

The study will take about a year, Redlich said. Results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

By Professional Mariner Staff