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What it takes to be a Doctor at the Olympic Games, with Chief Medical Officer Dr. João Grangeiro

joao_grangeiro_SB-1024x458The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are under six months away, and they are shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever. We already know that the way athletes are cared for will change, and that new systems will be used to track their health and medical procedures more precisely than ever before. But what does it really take to be a doctor at the Olympic Games in a world with constant changes? And what sort of medical legacy will Rio 2016 Games leave for Brazil and sports medicine?

Dr. João Grangeiro, Chief Medical Officer for this year’s Games, has experienced Olympic Games-level healthcare from both sides of the stethoscope, as both an athlete and a physician.

He has been involved in some capacity with no less than nine Olympic Games: six Summer Games and three Winter Games. “I was an athlete in Moscow 1980 Games,” he said. “I played volleyball for Brazil for about five years at the top level. In Barcelona 1992 I came back, but this time as a physician working at the Olympic Games. I was also a physician at the Sydney 2000 Games, after which I became the Chief Medical Officer for the Brazilian Olympic Committee.”

“We’re expecting the medical team for 2016 to do a stellar job as always,” he said. “But this time we are going to be helped by some of the most advanced technology we’ve seen in patient management. It’s an exciting time.”

Preparing the medical infrastructure to help this year’s athletes is a huge task. “We are going to have a frontline medical team as well as volunteers to work on the Polyclinic and medical stations at each venue,” he said. “Besides that, we have emergency response services in the form of ambulances, in case we need to transfer athletes to a nearby hospital.”

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A patient receiving an MRI scan in one of the Polyclinics. Above: Dr João Grangeiro, Chief Medical Officer for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Athletes train for a lifetime to make it to the top of their game. Even then, the chance to attend the Olympic Games at their peak is a rare one. So when a simple injury or illness puts a stop to their aspirations, it can be devastating.

“Athletes are not like regular patients,” added Dr. Grangeiro. “In spite of any health problems they might have, they are desperate to give their all and participate… They will want to play their sport even if they are unwell, such is their determination.”

It is therefore very important for doctors to know exactly what is going on with their athletes. A lot of them have a habit of disguising pain or injury, so medical staff must have an intimate knowledge of how their athletes tick.

The jewel in the Rio medical team’s crown is the Olympic Polyclinic, a shining examples of the best sports medicine has to offer. “The polyclinic is a 3,500 square meter facility that will have dental, ophthalmology, imaging, pharmacy, and clinical therapy facilities,” said Dr. Grangeiro. “Working there will be doctors of every specialty, from sports medicine to  physiotherapist to dermatology, to support the athletes during Games time.”

The polyclinic will be equipped with state-of-the-art MRI scanners, wireless digital x-ray systems and the latest ultrasound scanners to provide high quality images that will help medical staff diagnose even minor injuries as early as possible. Joining all of this together is GE Healthcare’s EMR system which will aid the management of, and access to, medical images and clinical data by medical staff.

It’s important to give athletes as accurate a diagnosis as possible in order to determine whether they should stop playing or carry on. The addition of this EMR system is already proving to be a game changer in the sports medicine field.

Ressonancia_MR450w(5)“I think the EMR is a big step forward for the Games,” said Dr Grangeiro. “In the past we relied on patchy records and the medical encounters we already had with the athletes. Now we have the chance to have all their previous imaging data and records on the same digital file and in a cloud system that we can access anywhere; the way we manage patients is going to be much more efficient.”

So what else does it take to be a doctor at the Olympic Games, besides detailed knowledge of the athletes they treat?

“First, you always, always need to be up to date,” said Dr. Grangeiro. “You need to know how your athletes are training, what they are doing, how they are doing it, what their physical and mental state is. You need to be involved in what they are eating, how they are sleeping, and a whole list of other factors. It’s really a doctor-patient relationship unlike any other.”

To make all this possible, doctors must have the utmost confidence in their work. “That would be my main advice for doctors joining or willing to join the Olympic Games medical team: do your best for your athletes to be confident in your abilities.”

Stay tuned to The Pulse on the Road to Rio 2016, as we shine the spotlight on the healthcare behind the athletes and the medical team that are working in the background to help them fulfill their gold medal dream.