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Medical Care at Sea

Telemedicine is giving boaters peace of mind at sea.

The digiMed kit comes with multiple power options.

The Doctor Is In

Telemedicine lets boaters contact physicians around the clock from anywhere.

Navigation and weather apps are a great way to plan your next excursion when not at the helm. While cruising, consider your phone and its rich assortment of apps as another layer of redundancy to your electronics suite.

Connectivity while cruising means security, and that’s of utmost importance in a medical crisis. A number of apps can store medical history, emergency contacts, and direct you to the nearest medical facility. While helpful, they lack the power to make a proper diagnosis, which is often necessary to administer immediate care. Thanks to tech, telemedicine is filling in the gap.

Once reserved for remotely operating humanitarian agencies like Doctors Without Borders, telemedicine is now everywhere. Top-quality, 24/7 medical care is readily available through your smartphone or tablet.

So, what does this mean for you? For starters, peace of mind. A telemedicine service can identify a number of ailments, consult with other physicians on a diagnosis, suggest treatment, and prescribe medication. And people with chronic conditions can be monitored remotely by their physicians if the need arises.

There are, however, limitations. A doctor sitting in an office in El Paso cannot physically examine a patient in Eleuthera. And typically, only the basic medical diagnostic tools are part of the first-aid chest aboard many yachts. In a dire situation, advanced medical equipment is needed to make an accurate diagnosis remotely. Enter DigiGone and its digiMed telemedicine kit (retails for approximately $10,000 plus subscription fees).

“Our market is remote, and we continue to play [here],” said Mike Dunleavy, president and owner of DigiGone Remote Communication Systems. Dunleavy cut his teeth providing a variety of communications solutions for remote operations—from commercial maritime to isolated, land-based crews. The demand for telemedicine was growing and as DigiGone developed, ­Dunleavy saw a need for a portable kit that, if necessary, can be “used by anyone with no training at all,” he said.

The digiMed’s combined features—portability, ease of use, and connectivity—are unique. A satcom or Wi-Fi connection is all that’s needed to get started. I was impressed by the sheer number of devices and features it boasted in a rugged, self-contained and waterproof kit that weighs less than 10 pounds. The standard unit has a thermometer, pulse oximeter, blood-glucose meter, blood-pressure monitor, and a single-lead ECG, all Bluetooth enabled. The USB macro camera and a 10-inch screen allow for patient-to-doctor or caregiver communication over a hands-free speakerphone. A 12-lead ECG, electronic stethoscope, and ultrasound can be added as options.

The operation of medical devices may seem daunting for the layman. But with “tutorials built into the kit to take the user through every aspect of its use,” Dunleavy said, the digiMed should have you covered.

Dunleavy demonstrated the capabilities of the digiMed remotely, via my iPhone. Even on a tiny screen, all of the data from the medical equipment was neatly arranged and the video feed was clear and streaming live. In the event of a real emergency, a patient would be remotely linked to George Washington Maritime Medical Access, which provides case management for DigiGone via the digi+Doc service. “The addition of a telemedicine kit like digiMed has the ability to dramatically increase clinical resources,” GW Maritime told me.

Systems aboard our yachts allow us to travel to far-flung locales. The digiMed kit can be as useful as any of this equipment. “If you own a yacht, you can afford this,” Dunleavy said.

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.