With new 5G maritime network, sick seafarers can get teleconsultation, medicine delivered by drones

SINGAPORE – Seafarers who fall sick can soon have medicine flown to them by drones.

They can also do video consultation with a doctor instead of being ferried to shore.

This service will be launched in July as a partnership between telecommunications firm M1 and Fullerton Health, and is aimed at those who work at shipping companies in Singapore.

The use of drones and smooth video calls at sea are enabled by M1’s 5G maritime network which was launched on Wednesday at St John’s Island, with a network radius of at least 15km. Two other similar stations on Bukom Island and Raffles Lighthouse will be deployed later in 2023, and another nine stations by 2025 to cover the waters off Singapore’s southern coast.

The teleconsultation service will reduce the time that sick seafarers have to wait to receive medical attention, as well as the logistical burden of sending a patient to the mainland unless it is an emergency, said Fullerton Health country manager Walter Lim at the launch of the network.

The deployment of boats to ferry patients to the shore is understood to cost anywhere between $300 and $600 per trip.

Dr Lim told The Straits Times: “When seafarers are sick, it is still common to consult doctors over the phone or through e-mail. Video conference is not widely available because of the cost of connectivity.

“But with a 5G network, there’s no lag and the image is sharper, which will give the doctor a clearer picture of what is happening. With this, the doctor can make an informed decision on whether the patient should come to the clinic, or if a drone should be sent out to deliver medicine.”

Within three hours of a consultation, sick workers can receive medicine for non-urgent conditions, such as an upset stomach and minor respiratory symptoms or wounds, without requiring the boat to dock inland, he said.

Fullerton Health receives up to five calls weekly for medical consultation from sea, said Dr Lim, adding that at least 15 doctors from the healthcare chain will be on standby for consultations via the LiveFuller app.


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