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Olympic Games Healthcare: This Software Helps Doctors Track Athletes' Health in Pyeongchang

Dorothy Pomerantz
February 15, 2018
"Even before its launch in February, new software that keeps track of Olympic athletes’ healthcare started providing data that matters.
In November, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) held a test event on the new luge track for the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang 2018, in South Korea. Athletes started crashing during runs. Crashes are not unusual for such a speedy event, but doctors and IOC officials looking at the Athlete Management Solution(AMS) software noticed that a surprisingly high number of crashes occurred on a specific turn on the course, which features a hard left followed almost immediately by a hard right. “We were able to respond quickly because of a peak in the data,” says Ray Bender, one of the product managers in charge of the AMS program for GE.

As athletes, trainers and other staff move around the Olympic Village and the 15 competition venues during the games, their medical information is moving with them, thanks to AMS. Designed by GE Healthcare in partnership with the IOC, the solution allows doctors to access Olympic participants’ medical, venue and sport-specific records, and track their treatment. (Read a Q&A with IOC member and Chief Medical Officer for the Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee, Dr. YoungHee Lee, here.)

The IOC and their medical staff also are using the system to monitor for disease outbreaks, injury clusters and other medical issues that require a rapid response. “Let’s say a bunch of athletes all staying on the same floor of the Olympic Village are coming down with the same infectious disease,” says Jonathan Murray, the managing director of the tech development company GE Research Circle Technology. The IOC, which runs the games, can spot the issue and work with medical staff to find out how the illness is spreading, he says. Public health agencies from South Korea, the U.S. and the U.K. also have access to the information and can use it to monitor for diseases, Murray says.

The AMS is the only medical record system doctors can use at the games — to avoid errors, no paper is allowed. And the AMS is cloud-based so that the more than 500 doctors and trainers can access and input data from a laptop computer or tablet regardless of whether they are on the slopes, at the clinic or in a local hospital. “Being able to work on a tablet was key because it allows access from anywhere,” Bender says.

With the help of native speakers recruited to work on the project and the use of SNOMED global standardized clinical technology, doctors can view patients’ records in nine languages, including, for the first time, languages using Asian, Cyrillic and Arabic characters.

All conditions have a universal code that’s matched with the right diagnosis across the nine languages. For example, “Ligament rupture, grade 3” in Korean “인대 –파열 등급 3” will translate exactly into French “Ligament – Rupture de grade 3,” Murray says. This avoids the problem of unsophisticated translations that can turn terms such as “fall” — a common cause of injury — into “autumn.”

The IOC and GE Healthcare partnership didn’t start with Pyeongchang. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, doctors used GE Healthcare’s electronic medical record system — the Centricity Practice Solution — to track athletes’ medical conditions. For example, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio the system noticed that swimmers were visiting the clinics because their eyes were irritated. Doctors were able to alert organizers, who discovered the pool’s chlorine levels were too high, Bender says.

Bender was a logical choice to co-manage the AMS development. A pharmacist by training and Air Force veteran, he helped create the world’s first electronic medical record system for the U.S. Department of Defense in the late 1980s. That system is still in use today at U.S. military bases, including those in South Korea.

Bender and the project's other chief manager, Rachel Hiatt, guided the software's design from scratch over the past year. They traveled frequently to Hungary, where GE has a large base of software engineers, to work with the tech team coding the software, numbering from 15 to 50 during the year. The developers spent the first half of the year building the content and the rest of the time putting in security features.

After the games, the IOC and the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) will be able to use the data from the AMS to plan for the next Olympic Games, Murray says.

The software’s developers will continue to add analytics features for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. In addition to more data on health and safety, the team plans to bring in competition and training data, including information from wearable gadgets that track exercise and heart rates. “With the growth of wearable devices, there will be enormous amounts of data available to be mapped and correlated with more conventional medical data” Bender says.

The resulting AMS could be useful not only for Olympic Games organizers, but also for organizations that put on other top athletic events, such as professional sports leagues, Murray says.

Above: Designed by GE Healthcare in partnership with the IOC, the AMS system allows doctors to access Olympic participants’ medical, venue and sport-specific records, and track their treatment. Image credit: Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images.