Q: My husband, 74 years old, has dialysis three times weekly. He wants to take a cruise. Can you help?
- Catherine Thormin-Mease Conroe, Texas
"...determine where your cruise will be stopping on the days you require dialysis..."
Half a million Americans require regular dialysis. As you know, travel poses unique challenges to these patients, and cruising makes some particularly tough. Because of this, the options are pretty limited. Depending on your insurance provider, you may be able to receive treatment in multiple ports-of-call, which is more likely if the cruise is domestic. Travel insurance doesn't usually cover treatments outside of an emergency situation, such as a storm or technical malfunction preventing you from making an appointment for treatment at a port of call.
There are resources designed to help you arrange for dialysis at ports-of-call along the cruise's route. It requires a bit of research to pull it off, ideally in coordination with a doctor or social worker, and with the help of an outfit such as Global Dialysis. It provides an online database of dialysis centers, which you can browse by location on their website's map; you just need to type in the port of call.
You'll have to determine where your cruise will be stopping on the days you require dialysis, decide on which centers to visit on-shore, and call to make sure your insurance is accepted, confirm their availability, etc. This means a lot of groundwork.
Also, you can receive dialysis treatments on board your cruise ship, through a company such as Dialysis at Sea. They offer three onboard dialysis sessions a week, and provide a nurse for every two travelers, as well as a resident nephrologist. It is, however, quite expensive; somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000 above the normal ticket price for a cruise with this service, depending on the length of the cruise. The company contracts with the cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, so you'll have to make a reservation through Dialysis at Sea. Your medical insurance may cover some of the additional expense, but Medicare and Medicaid are not accepted.
As far as we know, these are the best options available for maintaining dialysis treatments while out at sea. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether either option is appropriate for you, and double check the credentials of any potential clinics if you decide to make your own appointments.