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Medical equipment may be 2010 legacy

Games health care include clinics, field hospitals, disaster planning

By Clare Ogilvie

Whistler could be in line for some major medical legacies thanks to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games Medical Services plan.

“We are certainly trying to leave as much as possible,” said Dr. Jack Taunton, chief medical officer for the 2010 Games.

Currently there are plans for Olympic sponsor GE to bring in equipment to perform MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging ) and CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scans. It’s likely other sponsors will be involved too.

In Torino, Kodak left behind imaging equipment used for dental and health care at all three of the 2006 Games’ polyclinics.

And the legacy is not just related to triage equipment. The athletes’ village, in the Lower Cheakamus area, will house a fully equipped cool down centre with ice baths, whirlpool baths and so on. It is hoped that much of that will be left behind as well as part of the new athletes’ centre. After the Games the centre will provide affordable accommodation for visiting teams as well as training space and rehabilitation space.

“It could be quite a legacy,” said Taunton, adding that searching for these opportunities is a driving force.

He is also hoping there will be further discussions around putting a rehabilitation centre close to the Whistler Health Care Centre.

“Right now (the WHC Centre) is a diagnostic centre but they don’t treat musculoskeletal injury,” said Taunton. “So we would like to, as a legacy… on a pod adjacent to the Whistler Health Care Centre (have) a building that will be a rehab centre for Whistler, so the athletes could have diagnostic tests done there, be seen by physicians there, and then undergo rehabilitation there.”

The MRI and CAT scan equipment will be set up in the polyclinic at the athlete’s village site.

It is hoped that by bringing in the equipment it will both speed up medical help and reduce the impact of the 2010 Winter Games on B.C.’s already stretched health care system.

“We don’t want to be bumping (patients) or jumping queues,” said Taunton. “The public is obviously concerned about that so we want to be self sufficient. That means we have to use our Olympic sponsors, our own budget ($21.8 million) and our own ingenuity as to how we can become as self sufficient as possible.”

The polyclinic will offer the services of just about every type of physician and surgeon you can imagine, as well as a host of therapists. The same level of care will be offered in a polyclinic at the Vancouver Athletes’ Village.

There will also be a fully equipped field hospital in Whistler in case the town is shut off by a disaster.

“That (way) we will be able to offer emergency surgery there if we couldn’t fly or transport the athlete or the spectator out,” said Taunton.

“We are working closely with the federal, provincial, and Vancouver Coastal Health disaster planning teams. We meet on a monthly basis, to integrate the trauma team at VGH and the other hospitals’ disaster plans. We are creating disaster plans for each of the venues and, tragically, we have to be ready for (any) mass casualties and mass injuries that could occur.”

One of the big lessons from the 2006 Torino Games, said Taunton, was that athletes and spectators alike needed access to medical services quickly and outside the public health care system where possible.

“In Torino... they used an MRI in a hospital, so the quickest they could see anyone there was four hours, even on a priority basis,” said Taunton.

Said Vivianna Zanocco, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority: “We want to support the Olympics but you don’t want to do so at the expense of your own residents and certainly our priority is the safety and security of the people we are already in charge of.”

Trends have also shown, said Zanocco, that local residents use medical services less frequently than usual during the Games.

But all of this comes at a cost. The latest plan shows VANOC with an estimated contribution to the medical services budget of $9 million, up from the $5 million in the 2002 bid book. The money will come from ticket sales and other sources within the operating budget. The province’s contribution of $12.8 million to the medical services budget is unchanged.

Injured or sick athletes and spectators will be triaged wherever they come to the attention of the over 1,700 medical personnel, most of them volunteers, working at the Games. They will only be transported to a hospital if the situation warrants it. If they are accredited to the Games their treatment is covered by insurance from the Vancouver Organizing Committee. If not they will have to use their own medical insurance.

In Torino 1,198 people related to the 2006 Games used a hospital. At those Games 56 per cent of people seen by medical teams were part of the work force, 13 per cent were athletes, 12 per cent were spectators, 10 per cent were part of the Olympic Family and about 8 per cent were media.

At the 2002 Salt Lake Games medical staff at the Nordic venue treated 450 people with sprained ankles and lower leg injuries just from the walk into the competition site.

The 2010 medical team will be responsible for looking after up to 1.5 million spectators, 12,000 media, some 6,000 athletes and a workforce of up to 40,000.

And like every other aspect of life these days the plan for cutting edge medical services is tied to technology. Indeed, officials with the International Olympic Committee were so impressed recently during a briefing that they have requested that 2010 organizers work to introduce part of their medical encounter technology at the 2008 Games as a pilot project or dry run.

The system would allow medical services personnel to enter data at the triage site and send it directly to the public health care system ahead of the patient. This would work for both spectator and athlete alike.

And, in the case of Canadian athletes, attending physicians and surgeons could also have access to a complete computerized medical history, which would include the most up-to-date information on allergies, medical treatment, nutrition and even sports psychology if relevant to the crisis.

Recently the Canadian Olympic Committee committed $200,000, through Sport Canada, to bring 1,500 new athletes into the computerized tracking system known as Injury Zone.

Dr. Robert McCormack, chief medical officer for the 2006 and the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team knows the value of this first hand.

“Having the athletes not only spread out across the country but around the world it is a challenge to stay on top of their health care and performance issues,” he said.

In Torino, where it ran as a pilot for athletes, the medical encounter technology allowed a higher standard of care since any treating medical personnel had all the relevant information they needed, whether the treating physician or therapist from Canada was there or not.

The program will also track injuries over time so that coaches can see patterns that may crop up.

“…Then coaches can prepare athletes and train them to avoid this,” said McCormack.

“Our expectation is that by the time we get to 2010 we will have gathered four years of data in the system and we can start to identify trends, injury patterns, and look at what we need to do to keep the athlete at their top performance.

“It is always a razor edge between optimal training and the abyss of over training, or pushing it during competition and getting injured. You want to trend that line as close to the edge as you can to optimize the chances and minimize the risk.”