Home Cruise Safely 7 things you need to know about medical care on cruise ships

By consumerreports.org

From aqua parks to Michelin star chefs, cruise lines aren’t shy about advertising their high-end amenities. But what the ads don’t reveal is that the medical facilities on board are likely to be far less grand. “People assume that they will have access to the same medical care on a cruise that they do on land, but this is hardly the case,” Natalie Newman, M.D., who has served as a ship doctor on several cruises, said. Understanding the realities of medicine at sea can help keep your “Love Boat” dream trip from turning into a “Poseidon Adventure” medical disaster.

1. The cruise ship is not your local hospital
Many ships have a doctor on board who, like Newman, is trained in emergency medicine—but not all of them. According to international maritime law, they aren’t required to; a crew member with medical training is sufficient, says Ross Klein, Ph.D., author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” The medical facilities are generally more like an infirmary or walk-in care clinic than a “floating” hospital. You might find a ventilator and a small X-ray machine and the doctor may be able to perform simple laboratory tests to check for infection or electrolyte or blood sugar levels. But there’s no MRI or CT scanner, intensive care unit, or blood bank (although the crew has usually been blood-typed and may be asked to serve as donors if a passenger needs a transfusion).

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