Olympics organizers put emphasis on technology

October 1, 2007
Jane Qiu

The countdown to the August 2008 Beijing Olympic Games continues, but as excitement levels across China grow with each passing week, Prof. Jian-Ping Dai is not yet ready to celebrate. As the vice director of the Games Service Department of the Beijing Organisation Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), he is working tirelessly to develop a comprehensive and sophisticated infrastructure to help ensure the health of the more than 16,000 athletes expected to participate.

The countdown to the August 2008 Beijing Olympic Games continues, but as excitement levels across China grow with each passing week, Prof. Jian-Ping Dai is not yet ready to celebrate. As the vice director of the Games Service Department of the Beijing Organisation Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), he is working tirelessly to develop a comprehensive and sophisticated infrastructure to help ensure the health of the more than 16,000 athletes expected to participate.

"Technological innovation will be a key feature of the Beijing Olympics," said Dai, the immediate past president of the Chinese Society of Radiology (CSR). "We will have a multilingual polyclinic that can serve the needs of athletes from all over the world."

The stress on technology will be fully embodied in the polyclinic, the primary medical center for the Games that is being established by the Olympic Village BOCOG and China's Ministry of Health. Indeed, technology has changed almost every aspect of athletic training and competition since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. But even more dramatic are changes in the medical technology available to diagnose and treat athletes during the upcoming Games.

The polyclinic will feature computed radiography systems, PACS, and radiology information systems, facilitating teleradiology and digital storage of data. Since the Games will be held in six cities, the technology is crucial for rapid and accurate assessment of sports injuries by medical staff, as well as by officials of sports teams from all over the world.

BOCOG is working closely with the International Olympic Committee to ensure high standards of medical care during the Games. Lessons from previous events have been learned, Dai said. To gain firsthand experience, he led medical teams to observe the polyclinics at work during the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. At both Games, he noted that MRI was in high demand but that the conventional horizontal system had limitations when examining joint movements. The polyclinic of the Beijing Olympics will have two MR systems: one horizontal and one vertical.

"This will be the first time a vertical system will be used in the Games," he said.

The polyclinic will also practice "personal imaging" by taking into consideration the fact that people of different racial backgrounds may require, for instance, different MR contrast doses for optimal imaging.

At least one portable ultrasound system will be included in the facility. Also, the polyclinic will be a primary source of dental care for athletes. Before the Games start, the athletes will be offered an oral examination and oral hygiene education. A team of 80 dentists and assistants will use digital imaging equipment for examinations. A digital panoramic system will also be used to produce radiographs with a larger viewing area, including all 32 teeth as well as the patient's face, jaw, and throat areas. The dental team can use this system to diagnose any injuries that may involve several teeth, such as trauma resulting in jaw fracture or dislocation.

BOCOG plans to recruit 70 radiologists and radiographers to volunteer in the polyclinic's imaging section. They will be selected from the 22 designated hospitals in Beijing, which include Peking Union Medical Hospital, China-Japan Friendship Hospital, and An-zhen Hospital.

"Hospitals in Beijing are among the best in the country, and their medical staff, including radiologists and radiographers, are of high quality," said Prof. Qi Ji, current president of the CSR.

This approach will afford the polyclinic a geographic advantage for setting up an efficient healthcare service for the Beijing Olympics, he said. Apart from medical expertise, BOCOG will select medical staff on the basis of their linguistic skills.

The polyclinic in Beijing will be based in a temporary building constructed specifically for the Games that is scheduled to open in early July 2008. The medical staff will take shifts to keep the polyclinic running between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. and will provide 24-hour emergency services during the entire period of the Olympics. In the other five cities where the Games will also be going on, similar healthcare services will be provided by staff from designated local hospitals.

In addition to the polyclinic, there will be emergency medical staff in each stadium, 170 healthcare stations, 170 ambulances, and an option for international transfer if it's necessary.

"Everybody will be working as a team to ensure that all injuries during the Games are treated as promptly and effectively as possible," Dai said. "Although the previous Games have provided a valuable basis for setting up the polyclinic in Beijing, we must also prepare for unexpected emergencies. My job is to think, to take everything into consideration, and to organize the polyclinic around it. We need to prepare for the worst scenarios. But let's hope that they will not happen."