INTRODUCTION: The history of the use of telemedicine in maritime medicine dates back to the 1930s. In the early 2000s, the German Navy built up a telemedicine network which today is installed in all ships and provides a connection to the medical infrastructure ashore. The objective of this study was to optimize the implementation of telemedicine based on the experience gained in the German Navy. For this purpose, qualitative and quantitative methods were used to identify determinants which affect the use of telemedicine in order to determine whether there is any need for optimization.
METHODS: The study was conducted using a mixed methods design. First, guideline-based interviews were conducted with Navy medical officers who had been recruited via various email distribution lists. The interviews were then transcribed and coded. In an analysis, deductive and inductive categories were derived from the codes. Hypotheses were deduced from the interviews, too, and used to develop a questionnaire.Besides the medical officers, other Navy medical personnel with experience in the field of telemedicine took part in the survey. The study was concluded by a descriptive analysis of the quantitative data.
RESULTS: The analysis of the interviews revealed that a regular use of telemedicine workstations increased the users' confidence and, in their opinion, improved medical treatment. Technical and organizational problems posed obstacles, which increased the use of partly insecure alternatives. A proper technical support was regarded as a precondition for effectively using telemedicine.The results of the quantitative analysis showed that consultation was mainly sought for dermatological (46%), surgical (24%), and internal (22%) conditions.
CONCLUSION: The study revealed determinants for the use of telemedicine in the German Navy. Factors improving the motivation of the users should be strengthened in order to optimize the use of telemedicine. Furthermore, it can be assumed that a successful implementation will be supported by reducing or eliminating obstacles. The findings on the main reasons for seeking medical advice could be taken into account in the further planning of specific training.