Radiology plays greatest role to date at the Olympics

February 19, 2010
Rebekah Moan

Never in the history of the Olympics has diagnostic imaging played such a huge role. For the first time ever at the Winter Olympic games taking place in Vancouver, Canada, all four modalities–digital radiography, ultrasound, CT, and MRI–are represented in both the Alpine and city settings.

Never in the history of the Olympics has diagnostic imaging played such a huge role. For the first time ever at the Winter Olympic games taking place in Vancouver, Canada, all four modalities–digital radiography, ultrasound, CT, and MRI–are represented in both the Alpine and city settings. Another first for the Olympic Games is the addition of portable ultrasound units at, or near, the field of play.

The Olympic diagnostic imaging equipment is situated in the athletes’ villages in Vancouver and Whistler at what’s called a poly clinic, according to Dr. Bruce Forster, a professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and the Vancouver Organizing Committee imaging supervisor.

Poly clinic is an Olympics term that refers to a clinic that provides all medical services to athletes and Olympic families, which means everything from physiotherapy to imaging to lab to consultation by sports medicine physicians, he said.

In a first, each poly clinic has a 1.5T MRI, a 16-slice CT, a digital radiography machine, and an ultrasound machine, all provided by

GE

, a platinum global sponsor. 

Another first is the use of portable ultrasound machines the size of a laptop in five venues outside the villages. The venues are

Cyprus Mountain

, where snowboard, cross country and freestyle skiing competitions are held,

Canada Hockey Place

where men’s hockey is played,

UBC Thunderbird Arena

, another hockey rink,

Richmond Olympic Oval

the site for long track speed skating.

The idea is to bring imaging to the athlete instead of vice versa, and allow coaches and National Olympic Committee physicians to have the most data they can to determine whether an injured athlete can return to the field of play, Forster said.

“For example, if you’re a women’s hockey player, and you’re playing at UBC rink and you strain a calf muscle in the first period, we can image you in between periods and help the coaches be able to decide whether you can go back,” he said.

The units are staffed by musculoskeletal (MSK) sonographers and the images are then sent via an extensive network to the poly clinics where the radiologists interpret them and give immediate feedback to the physician, according to Forster.

At the games there are 19 radiologists and 51 technologists, all Canadian. The host country picks the physicians and historically they all come from the host country. In Vancouver the individuals are all volunteers who work 13 shifts each, with a shift lasting about 8 hours. While the poly clinic is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., a patient can come in at any time and still get imaged. Radiologists are on call, Forster said.

Generally speaking, the radiologists are all MSK-fellowship trained, but as there is only one radiologist at each poly clinic, it’s important to have diverse skills and be able to cover the unexpected imaging finding, Forster said.

“For instance if you’re an MSK radiologist, we need to have one of the two radiologists able to read head CTs, and acute trauma, or acute spine trauma CTs,” he said. “We had to make sure when selecting the team the radiologists could manage that diverse set of requirements.”

To volunteer for the Olympic Games there is an application process that asks questions such as their experience in MSK radiology and what sort of modalities the radiologist covers. There also is a security and accreditation check.

But just because the radiologists are at the Olympics doesn’t mean they get to go to games for free, Forster said.

“Everyone sees themselves at the gold medal hockey game, but the volunteers are told very early on there will not be a chance to go to any of the events for free,” he said. “I bought tickets just like everybody else.”

On the other hand, the radiologists and technologists do get to eat in same dining hall as the athletes and attend concerts in the athletes’ village.

“We eat at the same hall but there is still a divider between us and them,” Forster said. “It’s important that we don’t distract athletes. Usually any interaction is operational.”

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