Telemedicine, remote monitoring aid care aboard offshore oil rigs

The explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 and set off one of the worst environmental disasters in history is an extreme case, but workers on even the safest of offshore rigs are susceptible to injuries and high rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Oil companies routinely have stationed nurses and paramedics on rigs to treat minor ailments aboard rigs, but with rigs now outfitted with Internet and satellite connections, more and more operators are turning to telemedicine and remote monitoring and diagnostic tools to help care for offshore workers and save money. An article in the July-August issue of the journal Telemedicine and e-Health looks at this trend.

Abermed, an Aberdeen, Scotland-based telemedicine service provider, more often than not links offshore caregivers to physicians on dry land via telephone, but is increasingly relying on VitalLink, a product from TeleMedic Systems that records patient vitals and transmits data wirelessly to a computer or smartphone. The company also is making greater use of digital 12-lead ECG technology.

Other telemedicine firms have equipped rig paramedics with webcams and free Skype video-chat software, while some offshore health workers routinely snap photos with their smartphones and dispatch the images to remote physicians.

Remote health monitoring services might cost in the hundreds of dollars per day, but that's far less than the $5,000 to $10,000 a 50-mile medical evacuation by helicopter might run. (A medevac from rigs in the Gulf of Thailand could cost as much as $150,000, including jet service to Hong Kong or Singapore.)

"It is a casual and frequent use of the physician teams to enable the best quality of care and manage the situations offshore,'' Dr. Glenn G. Hammack, president of one such company, Houston-based NuPhysicia, is quoted as saying. "It is an ability to extend the physician's judgment to the remote location."

To learn more:
- read the complete study in Telemedicine and e-Health