Ever wonder what happens
when an Olympic athlete gets the flu? Sprains an ankle? Meet the Polyclinic.
by CHRISTOPHER NELSON
On January 29, the busiest health-care facility in the state will open
on the ground floor of the University of Utahs Guest Houseand
50 days later it will close, never to be heard from again.
Such is the life span of an Olympic Polyclinic. A 24-hour-a-day operation
located deep within the Olympic Village, the Polyclinic keeps athletes,
coaches, and other members of the Olympic Family healthy during their
moment in the worlds spotlight. Rarely mentioned in news reports
about the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, the Polyclinic
operates out of the limelight. Its the busiest Olympic venue
youve never heard of, jokes Mark R. Elstad, M.D., Polyclinic
medical director and associate professor of internal medicine at the Universitys
medical school. The outside world doesnt see the Polyclinic;
its purely an Olympic service, he notes.
As part of a 1998 agreement with Intermountain Health Care (IHC), the
University will manage all Games-related health care for venues on campus.
In addition to the Polyclinic, the University will staff and equip first-aid
stations in Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium during Opening and Closing Ceremonies,
as well as a smaller first-aid station inside the Olympic Village. University
Hospital will provide more specialized inpatient care and diagnostic services
needed by any member of the Olympic Family (a group that includes members
of the International Olympic Committee, the International Federation of
Sports, and national Olympic committees; athletes; and delegations from
designated Games locations, as well as cities currently bidding to host
The Universitys involvement in the Polyclinic marks an Olympic milestone,
as Salt Lake Citys Polyclinic will be the first in Olympic history
to be managed by a major academic medical center.
The Polyclinic will essentially be run as an extension of University
Hospital, says William Holt BS88 MPA93, a University
Hospital administrator who will oversee all University medical services
for the Games. All of the resources of the hospital, including medical
imaging and the expertise of the Universitys 800 medical school
faculty members, will be available to the 3,500 athletes and coaches who
will live in the Olympic Village.
The clinic itself will feature a full pharmacy, digital radiology equipment
(including MRI), and a clinical laboratory. In addition, more than 450
health-care workers from the University and the community will staff primary
care, sports medicine, physical therapy, podiatry, dental, vision, psychiatry,
gynecology, and otolaryngology exam and treatment areas in the clinic.
The clinic will be supplied with more than $1 million worth of donated
The Polyclinic will provide
the same services during the Paralympic Winter Games as during the Olympic
Winter Games, but on a smaller scale. One additional service will be provided
by the European-based company Otto Bock, which will assist athletes in
the repair and maintenance of various orthotic and prosthetic devices
According to Holt, the Salt Lake Polyclinic will be the most technologically
advanced in Olympic history. Well be using software that records
every health-care encounter in the Olympic Village and at Olympic venues.
Combining this information with data collected across the state by the
Department of Health, well be able to track and monitor any out-break
of disease during the Games. The technology also will allow us to track
supplies and pharmacy orders at the Polyclinic, something thats
never been done before, he adds.
Tracking potential disease outbreaks is essential, says Elstad, because
the 2002 Games will be held during the height of Utahs flu season.
Our biggest challenge is to make sure that nothing gets in the way
of an athletes competing at his or her highest level. The Olympics
are unique in that there arent many situations in which a single
sporting event makes or breaks a person, where one race is the difference
between success or failure, he points out.
Elstad predicts the majority of visits to the Polyclinic will be athletes
seeking physical therapy, orthopedics, and primary care for complaints
such as colds, sore throats, and diarrhea. Most of the larger teams,
like the United States, bring along their own medical personnel,
he says. So our role in the Polyclinic often becomes one of supporting
team physicians by providing specific tests or specialty consultation.
Holt, Elstad, and colleague Stuart E. Willick, M.D., assistant professor
of physical medicine and rehabilitation and co-medical director, have
become Olympic veterans of sorts, having spent time as observers at both
the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano and the 2000 Olympic Summer Games
in Sydney. Holt became so familiar with the Sydney Polyclinic that the
director asked him to lead tours of the facility for visiting dignitaries.
Sydney set a new standard with their Polyclinic, admits Elstad,
but Im confident were up to the challenge. This is a
once-in-a lifetime opportunity to showcase the skills of our people and
programs to the international communityand well be ready.
Christopher Nelson BS96, who wrote about University Hospital
in the Spring 2001 Continuum, is public relations officer for
the John A. Moran Eye Center.