Every four years all eyes are on the world’s best athletes as they take the stage of the summer Olympic Games. We watch with amazement as world records are broken, weep tears of joy when our country triumphs and clench the edge of our seats during a close race. We know that these athletes have trained exhaustively for their moment of Olympic glory and we applaud this entertaining display of human perseverance. However, unbeknownst to the millions of onlookers, even the top performers are not invincible and must take necessary measures to ensure that their health and capabilities are at peak performance.
Behind the scenes, a legion of full-time and volunteer U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) medical staff support the needs of Team USA’s elite athletes. Hailing from all over the country, health care providers must have three years of experience and expertise in fields such as athletic training, chiropractic, massage therapy, physical therapy and general medicine. These medical experts provide care in fields such as orthopedic and internal medicine to U.S. Olympians. Although these professionals are trained to treat specific issues, they are also armed with the knowledge to handle any general health concerns and conditions that the athletes might have.
Of course, there is not a one to one ratio when it comes to the number of athletes to providers, which constantly challenges the adaptability and proficiency of the medical staff. Providers must be able to quickly and accurately treat any issues that are presented to them, likely seeing many athletes in a day’s time. So how do the providers keep it all straight?
If an athlete gets injured, has a condition or an illness, the coordinated effort of an athlete’s care team is invaluable. To get an accurate view of health history, including prior procedures, allergies and conditions, the USOC staff member may need to reach out to a primary physician who may or may not be affiliated with the USOC. The time that it takes to gain a true understanding of an athlete’s health could be costly to the precious days before competition. In an environment where the stakes and stress are high, the ability to quickly access referring provider information could expedite the treatment process and ease the mind of the Olympic elite.
Going for Gold with Provider Referral Tracking
If the USOC medical staff had access to a Provider Registry that maps and tracks relationships amongst referring providers, they could have a reliable view of all types of care providers and organizations affiliated with athletes.
A Provider Registry takes provider data from many different sources, such as payers, hospitals, practices and Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIEs), and creates one view of the provider through business rules, matching algorithms and can even make the record more complete by verifying and supplementing it with third party data. These clean provider records can be shared with external health systems, searched by fellow clinicians and administrative staff, such as the USOC medical staff, and published to provider websites for patient viewing. With provider referral tracking via a Provider Registry, an athlete’s primary care physician can be located and requested to quickly route health history to the USOC staff on site in a format that works for both electronic and paper-based practices. In turn, the USOC staff can send any health data that is generated during the games back to the provider. This bi-directional exchange creates a connection amongst referring providers that effectively enables communication and sharing of healthcare information that could be vital to the athlete’s well-being and success.
In order to deliver Olympic-level health services to the sporting elite, the USOC medical staff and primary care providers must work together in an effective manner. Without the support of a well-oiled medical machine, the U.S. athletes we’ve grown to love and admire could face health challenges that could threaten their long-term careers. When it comes to a career that measures success by physical achievement, an athlete’s care team at home and at the games could mean the difference between going for gold or going home.