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Data & Innovation, Performance | Aug 31, 2020
Craig Ranson explores an efficient and user-friendly system that is designed by the system for the system.

The use of data has become essential for the English Institute of Sport’s Athlete Health directorate.


By John Portch

Dr Craig Ranson, who became the EIS’ first Director of Athlete Health in December 2016, delivered a presentation at July’s Virtual Leaders Meet: Total High Performance that delved into some of the key focus areas for the Athlete Health during the Tokyo cycle. The first, which we explore here, is the development of the EIS’ Performance Data Management System [PDMS], a medical records and health surveillance system.

“First of all, how do we decide what to tackle?” asked Ranson. “Athlete Health is a new strategy for this cycle; this was my job early on in the cycle to work out what we’re going to do. Luckily, the EIS embarked on a really bold strategy in 2014 and 2015 to produce its own data management system and built in-house in partnership with a software development company [Rocketmakers].”

The emergence of the PDMS followed the EIS’ founding of the Athlete Health directorate at the start of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Cycle in order to support all aspects of Great Britain’s athletes’ physical and mental health.

This aim is laid out in the EIS’ mission statement, which Ranson shared with the audience:

‘To pioneer the delivery of science, medicine and technology services to drive medal success at Olympic, Paralympic and international competition.’

Of Athlete Health, the EIS website says: “The central Athlete Health team works closely with EIS and World Class Programme [WCP] Sports and Exercise Medicine [SEM] Specialist Doctors and Physiotherapists, who are the primary health providers within the UK High Performance System’s [HPS]. The athlete health teams also work closely with other disciplines and directorates who provide health related expertise and support.

“The Athlete Health team works to identify and support management of priority health problems within individual athletes, specific Olympic and Paralympic sports and across the UK HPS. This core team provides benefits in being able to undertake work many WCP couldn’t do alone, whilst enabling the sharing of innovations and good practice between the Olympic and Paralympic sports.”

Of Ranson’s hiring, it adds that his appointment reflects the, “growing recognition of the performance and wellbeing benefits of minimising the impact of injury and illness on athletes’ availability and readiness to train and compete.”

PDMS is essential to that goal. “The Performance Data Management System,” Ranson continued, “is a really good platform for collecting medical records for 1,500 athletes across 40 sports; a 130 or so medical practitioners. So we have a really good insight into the health history of 1,500 athletes across the 40 sports of the system.”

The PDMS has used its built-in Athlete Health dashboard since 2019 and has since paired that with its AER [availability, effort and recovery] monitoring app. “Athletes directly input daily AER information via their smart-phones so that coaches and support staff can dynamically manage performance and health programmes,” explains the EIS website. “The flexibility of PDMS and the AER app allows the EIS to individually tailor information and questions for each WCP.”

Back onstage, Ranson adds: “At the moment, we have 26 sports using this app with over 1,000 athletes every single day.” He also explained that AER has been updated to reflect the arrival of the pandemic. “We developed a Covid bolt-on so that we can recognise early signs of illness from the athlete reporting before they even think about travelling into their training site; and there is automatic reporting to medics in their sport; and their coaches know who is available and who might need a phone call before they even set foot outside the door.”

To demonstrate the app’s efficacy, Ranson shares a screenshot of a sample dashboard detailing an acromioclavicular joint sprain. It contains drop-down menus, multiple choice questions, and boxes where information can be input. “This is a picture of one of the user-friendly ways of entering data for the doctors and physiotherapists to log every consultation and every problem in the PDMS system. The user experience is updated by the team following feedback, so it really is a system designed by the system for the system.”

The data warehouse

This data is then fed into the PDMS’ ‘data warehouse’, which has been designed to make data user-friendly at every access point. “You can imagine that with 1,500 athletes and 40 sports that putting in data every single day creates a whole mass of information, which is then stored in a relational database,” explained Ranson. “That’s great but it creates some problems, as we need to be able to get that information out in a useable form from that relational database into what we’ve developed over the past few years, which is a data warehouse that assembles that data so that it can be easily analysed and automatically reported on.

“An example of that is that Athlete Health data, athlete-reported data, training data, can then be assimilated and compiled into reports that can then be automatically generated for the practitioners and coaches in the sport to make informed decisions on a daily and weekly basis with live data. These refresh several times a day and these reports can be updated to give that key performance indicator information to coaches and practitioners – they spend a lot less time than they used to cleaning data and putting together data, analysing data and, instead, can utilise that data to inform their performance and health decisions.”

The Athlete Health dashboard mentioned above has also increased efficiency. “When we wanted to report [on health] a few years ago [we had to] make a request to our Athlete Health intelligence team about what information the practitioner wanted,” recalled Ranson. “The team would then take somewhere between four to six weeks, depending on how much they had to work on, to answer those questions and send back a pretty sturdy PDF with the answers.

“Now there are live, filterable dashboards within the system that allow practitioners to do their own surveillance. Again, live data is uploaded and refreshed every single day and they give us clear ideas of what the injury and illness priorities are in that sport and act to tackle those accordingly.”

Maximising and optimising availability, preparation and performance

“Maximising availability, optimising availability, preparation and performance,” said Ranson. “If that’s our mission we’d better measure it and what gets measured gets done. Availability is a key metric, which can be assimilated from medical records and their data.”

He illustrates his point with an ‘availability insight’ chart for the ongoing cycle that plots athlete availability on a colour-coded graph, with green indicating the athlete is available, red indicating when they are unavailable, orange when they are restricted in training and yellow when there is a medical problem that requires an intervention but does not restrict their training, selection or performance. The two athletes featured – Athlete A and Athlete B – have had 98 per cent and 56 per cent availability respectively across the current cycle.

“Now we’re doing some detailed work to look at how that availability maps into their ability to meet performance goals. As we can do with individual athletes, we can also do that across sports and across the system.

“It can give us an indication of how effective our targeted initiatives are by hopefully seeing a greater proportion of green towards the last couple of years. Thankfully, that seems to be happening.”

As sport continues to return, the PDMS has an essential role to play for Great Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians.


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