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Special Olympics Scores With RFID

The technology helps to facilitate the organization's Healthy Athletes initiative, which provides free health screenings for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
By Bob Violino
Jun 22, 2009Special Olympics, based in Washington, D.C., is an international organization that promotes understanding, acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the organization holds year-round sports training, athletic competitions and other programs for more than three million children and adults in 175 countries. In so doing, Special Olympics provides opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities, to develop physical fitness and confidence—and to realize their potential.

Special Olympics is a big believer in using the latest technology to improve processes and meet its goals. In 1997, the organization launched its Healthy Athletes initiative, a global effort to provide free health screenings to athletes in seven areas: vision, hearing, oral health, lifestyle, general fitness, podiatry and sports physicals. In 2003, the organization introduced the Healthy Athletes Software (HAS) database, a Web-based software program created to store the collected health-screening information. And in 2006, it began field-testing a radio frequency identification system, provided by Fudan Microelectronics of Shanghai, China, to facilitate the health screenings and transmit the information to the HAS database.

When athletes check in for an event, they are issued a Healthy Athlete Pass—an RFID-enabled ID card loaded with information such as their name, age and nationality.

Since its inception, the program has provided more than 700,000 health screenings to individuals in more than 100 countries, and trained more than 75,000 health-care professionals from around the world regarding specific health concerns. Special Olympics reports that it is now the largest public health organization for those with intellectual disabilities, who typically receive sub-standard health care—or virtually no health care at all.

The RFID system was deployed at the 2007 Special Olympics Shanghai World Summer Games, to reduce reliance on a paper-based system that was time-consuming and prone to errors. Volunteers typically had to rush to register the athletes for their physicals, and language barriers between entrants, volunteers and doctors from different countries sometimes led to misunderstandings. After the doctors added the screening results to the forms, the documents were collected and sent to a data-entry room, where the information was manually entered into the HAS database. Because the process involved handwritten information and manual data entry, says Aldis Berzins, Special Olympics' director of IT, there was a distinct possibility of the wrong information being introduced into patient records.

Now, when athletes check in for an event, they are issued a Healthy Athlete Pass—an RFID-enabled identification card loaded with information such as their name, age and nationality. The system not only automates the registration process, but also improves information management in the medical services department. In addition, the ID cards can be used for contactless access to sporting events and information kiosks at Special Olympics games.
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