Radiologists who worked around the clock treating athletes at the 2012 London Olympics left with a clear picture of the increasingly critical role the specialty will play in providing imaging services to competitors at future Olympic Games.
Advances in state-of-the-art technology and imaging techniques have propelled radiology into a central role on the medical teams working to treat athletes and return them to their sport as quickly as possible, said Philip O’Connor, M.D., director of the NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Imaging Unit, Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.
“Radiology is not only essential to medical services for the Olympics, it’s likely that radiologists will become incorporated into the medical teams that some of the larger countries take to future games,” Dr. O’Connor said.
Dr. O’Connor served as imaging leader for a team of about 100 volunteers including sports radiologists, radiographers and radiographic assistants who operated MR, CT and ultrasound scanners and X-ray equipment in the Olympic Village Polyclinic sponsored by GE Healthcare. In terms of sheer output, radiology dramatically increased its role since the 2008 Bejiing Olympics, Dr. O’Connor said.
Radiologists performed more than 800 MR imaging exams, 400 ultrasound, 372 X-ray, and 80 CT exams during the London Games. By the end of the closing ceremony, radiologists had performed more than 1,400 imaging exams in all—twice the number of the 2008 Olympics, Dr. O’Connor said.
“The workload was huge, with scanners running constantly from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” said Dr. O’Connor, who spent nine weeks in London serving as the only full-time Olympic radiologist for the games, which hosted 10,000-plus athletes from 200 countries.
Along with the satisfaction gained from aiding athletes, radiologists’ Olympics experiences will also serve as the basis of future research. A diagnostic and therapeutic impact study conducted at the games will be used for a series of research papers, as well as lectures for the Royal College of Radiologists, the British Institute of Radiology and the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) technologists section, Dr. O’Connor said.
Dr. O’Connor also worked with British Journal of Radiology Editor Prof. Charles Hutchinson, M.D., to develop a special Olympic section of the August 2012 issue of the journal highlighting the roles of radiologists, radiographers and clinical staff. (See Web Extras).
Since the last Olympics, advances in state-of-the-art medical technology allowed radiologists to diagnose potential injuries earlier and monitor treatment more efficiently—a huge asset for imagers and athletes alike.
Equipment such as handheld ultrasound and flat-panel detectors for radiographic systems have improved dramatically in terms of size, portability, wireless capabilities and price, according to Lori Webb, a clinical analyst with MD Buyline, which provides healthcare organizations with objective, evidence-based information for their acquisition and management of medical technology.
Webb, who worked in sports medicine as a contracted radiographer for an NFL team in the late 1990s, found “the depth and breadth of imaging modalities” in the Olympic Village Polyclinic to be “a far cry from the portable X-ray unit, film processor and view box I used 16 years ago during the Atlanta Falcons’ home games.
“Despite this, the goal has remained the same,” Webb said. “Get the medical imaging procedure done quickly and accurately, get the results to the right people and get the athlete back in the game if the results support that decision.”
David Connell, M.D., a musculoskeletal radiologist at the Olympic Park Medical Centre in Melbourne, Australia, who treated many gold medalists at the London games, said the athletes were surprised by the quality of the imaging equipment.
“For many athletes, this was the first time they had experienced this level of imaging sophistication,” Dr. Connell said. “Many teams were bowled over by the high-quality service.”
The 2012 games also ushered in the transition to electronic medical records, marking the first time in Olympic history that paper charts were not used for U.S. athletes. Electronic imaging records were stored in the GE Healthcare Centricity Practice Solution, a RIS/PACS system that is in compliance with meaningful use guidelines.
“Using electronic medical records has given radiologists and other physicians simultaneous access to the athletes’ medical information when needed, enhancing their ability to care for the athletes,” said Webb.
The intensity of the polyclinic and sheer number of athletes and ailments treated by the radiologists taught volunteers a number of lessons on everything from techniques to teamwork.
“Seeing such a broad spectrum of injuries was amazing,” Dr. O’Connor said. “And seeing the injuries that athletes could compete with was amazing. “We also got a real feel for sport-specific injuries, having days when we would see four or five of the exact same injury because a new sport had come into the program,” he added. “For example, during the judo and weightlifting, we saw 14 acute ulnar collateral ligament injuries of the elbow.”
Although they’re not athletes, Dr. O’Connor said he also realized “how well radiologists can get on when they come together as a team with a common non-competitive aim.”
“Radiologists acted in a volunteer capacity and helped engender a lot of goodwill to the spirit of the games,” Dr. Connell agreed.
A special Olympic feature in the August 2012 issue of British Journal of Radiology examines the impact and uses of imaging and radiology in sports medicine. Developed by BJR Editor Prof. Charles Hutchinson, M.D., and Philip O’Connor, M.D., lead imager for the London 2012 Olympics, the issue features research on imaging muscle injury in the elite athlete, radiological interventions for soft tissue injuries and tendon and ligament imaging, among other topics.
To read an Olympic special feature editorial by Prof. Hutchinson and Dr. O’Connor and access abstracts of the research, go to bjr.birjournals.org/content/85/1016.toc.
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