Posted: Thursday May 24, 2012 12:55 PM

USOC-GE deal provides boost on health technology

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - General Electric extended its sponsorship with the U.S. Olympic Committee through 2020 in a deal that provides U.S. team doctors with groundbreaking technology to manage the health care of the athletes.

The deal, announced Thursday, will put thousands of pages of medical records into a computerized database that will replace hundreds of pallets of paper records that used to be transported to the Olympics on a ship several weeks before the games.

The Centricity Practice Solution will put the athletes' medical history at the fingertips of the USOC's top doctor, Bill Moreau, and other staff. Among other things, it will make it easier to keep track of their diets, find out if an injured athlete is allergic to certain medicines and determine treatment for athletes in urgent situations.

"Imagine the difference between using a club to pound on a log for communication versus using a smart phone,'' Moreau said.

The GE-USOC project is a big-picture version of what doctors' offices around the world have been trying to do for years - transfer paper records onto more accessible, less balky computer servers. The Olympic project has its unique challenges because of the more than 700 athletes on the team (more than double that when you consider the overall number of elite Americans in Olympic sports) and the worldwide travel that's part of their life.

"Recently, we had a modern pentathlete who went to train in Poland for almost two months on her own,'' Moreau said. "They don't all travel with full-on medical staff. This allows us to take care of her every bit as well as we'd take care of someone who was working at one of our facilities. Every athlete is of equal importance to us.''

It's fairly common for sponsors to provide services along with funding when they sign on with the USOC or International Olympic Committee. But sometimes, finding a relevant niche for that sponsor can be a more difficult task. For instance, it's easy to see how an apparel company can contribute, while some may wonder where a fast-food restaurant fits.

For years, of course, GE's role in the Olympic movement was best seen through the lens of its ownership of NBC and the billions of dollars the network paid to televise the games in the United States. A majority interest of NBC has since been sold to Comcast and USOC marketing chief Lisa Baird sees this as a new way for GE to stand out.

"When I ... met the GE folks, so much of the conversation was about NBC,'' Baird said. "But knowing what a critical initiative their medical business is for them, I said, `Hey, what can we do with you there? What's possible?' What I love is that they came back with ideas and started working with Dr. Moreau.''

Moreau says the power of the program allows multiple people to see various bits of information simultaneously. It makes treating the athletes, especially in real-time situations at an event as big as the Olympics, a much more manageable task.

"To me, it's kind of one of those pivotal moments in sports medicine, where you can implement technology to enhance health care,'' Moreau said. "It's a very big difference-maker.''
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