Team USA is used to racing with digital clocks. Now, it's time for digital health records.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is converting to electronic medical records this month for the 700 or so athletes who will be competing in London, as well as about 3,000 other athletes who have been seen by USOC doctors in recent years. Some say this step is a sign that electronic medical records have finally made it to the big time.
Electronic records are gaining momentum across the country, largely because the federal government has encouraged health care providers with financial incentives. But at most, only about a third of hospitals and private-practice doctors have fully functional electronic systems, according to recent estimates.
According to Bill Moreau, the USOC's managing director of sports medicine, the committee decided to transition from paper to electronic once it saw that electronic records could handle the unique needs of Olympians.
"Our patient population is probably — next to the military — the most mobile population of any group in the world," Moreau said. "Our athletes are on different continents in the same week."
And even when they are at home, tracking athletes' health is no easy task, with athletes training all over the country – from upstate New York to southern California.
Transporting the reams of medical information has become a major burden for the USOC. Previously, the committee had to gather and ship its records to each Olympic host city and didn't have access to athletes' health information for days at a time.
Paper records also created challenges for coordinating care. The average Olympian has eight different clinicians involved in care, according to Moreau, some of whom are affiliated with the USOC. But about half of the athletes aren't in constant contact with the USOC and its health care providers at all.
According to Jim Corrigan, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare IT — which created the committee's electronic medial record system – members of Team USA will have their paper records digitally scanned or added manually to the collection. GE's program, called Centricity Practice Solution, is already used by more than 40,000 doctors and hospitals in the U.S., but athletes will get a special version.
The new system is supposed to give USOC medical providers a better overall sense of athletes' readiness for competition, Moreau added. Records will include more thorough monitoring of blood hemoglobin, which is important for performance. The HER system will also track immunizations, for athletes' frequent travel. The USOC will also have specialized forms for injury reports at the Games, and the system will ask for more details than it would ask the average patient.