For Olympic athletes, electronic health records are a powerful tool

As the world’s attention turns to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced recently that it’s streamlining the medical records of our country’s elite athletes. On that topic, what follows is a summary of a recent Time Magazine article that provides more information about how the USOC plans to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) that will help physicians from around the world coordinate care for the athletes.

The article quotes Alex Morgan, a member of the U.S. women’s soccer team. “I would say that I have probably seen at least 30 doctors in my lifetime. I couldn’t even tell you how many different medical records I have all around the country and outside of the country. It’s a huge benefit to have it all in one place.”

While the Olympics have traditionally been a venue to showcase incredible feats of athletic prowess, the latest in food (Olympic Village) and athletic apparel, the Games have been slightly more reticent to adopt the latest technology that manages the medical records of athletes. Dr. Bill Moreau, managing director of sports medicine at the USOC, said that for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, medical records were shipped by boat to China on dozens of palettes. If a doctor needed access to the records while they were in transit, they were unavailable.

At the 2012 Games, anyone who provides care for a U.S. Olympic athlete, whether they’re an emergency department physician or a trainer, will be privy to the athlete’s medical history and can update the record with the latest developments. Whether it’s a serious injury or something as simple as rest for a day or two, all information will be logged so that care for the athlete can be better coordinated. Given that the average Olympic athlete sees eight different physicians at any one time, the time savings are incredible.

Officials hope that in addition to the efficiencies gained by the use of EHRs (3,417 athletes and 512 Olympians have joined the new digital system), patterns will be able to be detected that can inform clinical decision-making. In the article, Moreau talks about using analytics to track athletes with ACL injuries, being able to note what rehabilitation led to a quick recovery, while also looking at those athletes with the same injuries who did not recover as well. “[We can] compare things that were done to develop clinical pathways to care,” Moreau said. “We can start to identify best practices, and that’s really exciting.”

Similar to the goals of the Quest Diagnostics development team, EHRs being used for the Olympic athletes were developed with patient privacy in mind. We look forward to getting into the spirit of the Olympic Games, and also watching for follow-up on how EHRs enabled U.S. athletes and medical professionals to streamline care off the playing field.

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