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Remote health can be a matter of life and death

HEALTH, fitness and wellness responsibilities can be especially onerous, not to mention expensive, for companies sending employees overseas or to remote locations.

Medical emergencies in remote or international locations, can involve costly evacuations, or even worse, can result in death.

In the absence of up-front insurance, evacuations can be impossible to arrange without prepayment, and what might be considered a relatively inconsequential injury or sickness in a serviced area can turn into a major problem elsewhere.

Appendicitis, kidney stones, heart attacks, puncture wounds and myriad illnesses are common in any community, but having these attended to at an offshore location can pose a major problem, corporate health professionals warn.

Colleen Lau from the Travel Medicine Centre says companies need to plan for the needs of employees and their families who are travelling, or working in remote locations, for even a couple of days.

While companies need to provide education and advice on medications, vaccinations, medical kits, most companies do not have sufficient expert knowledge in-house.

“However, companies are becoming more and more aware of their liabilities when sending people to remote areas without medical care,” Dr Lau said.

“And there is an increasing demand for services for people going overseas on assignments for the mining and oil and gas industries.”

Industries that have employees working in overseas or remote locations most of the year were now in regular liaison with travel medical services, she said.

Like other such services, the Travel Medicine Centre has a nurse who gets to know companies and their needs, and can advise on logistics and service packages on offer.

Such services include medical examinations for personnel required to do undergo helicopter crash simulations, fitness and health screenings to determine suitability for particular locations and assignments.

Drug and alcohol testing is commonly available, as are skin cancer monitoring and cardiology services.

‘Who to send and who not to send can be a risk,” Dr Lau said.

Some conditions may preclude suitability, and even if diabetes, epilepsy and allergy does not, advice will generally be given to the employer and employee on the necessity of wearing an alert bracelet.

The Travel Medicine Centre advises employees be equipped with tailored kits, to be as medically self-sufficient as possible when travelling to remote areas.

They must also be educated on their use, and be able to perform adequate first aid training.

Writing equipment is also recommended, as is appropriate communication equipment, plus call numbers and net addresses, and geographical information such as the closest town or landing location.

This ensures all possible access to trained professional advice or other assistance is available as much of the time as possible. Insurance that not only covers treatment and evacuation, but also events such as terrorist attacks, and activities such as motor bike riding and trekking is also crucial.

“General travel health information talks can be given on request, and we often write tips for companies, but mostly it is tailored for the individual,” Dr Lau said.

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