As America’s population continues to age, there’s more need than ever for increased access to diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases. Consider that approximately 50 million Americans, or one in five adults, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or other autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to be affected, with some estimates indicating that 75 percent of those affected — some 37 million people — are female.
To add to this growing healthcare issue, the numbers of rheumatologists cannot meet the demand. A study by researchers from the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) noted that in 2013 there were only about 1.5 rheumatologists to serve every 100,000 people in the U.S. The ACR also projected that by 2025 there would be a shortage of 2,500 rheumatologists.
Unity Health Network, the largest independent physician group in Northeast Ohio, has responded to this need locally by adding a Rheumatology Division to its healthcare specialty offerings. Launched in April of this year, Unity Health Network Rheumatology is led by board-certified rheumatologists Kim Stewart, MD, and Rachel Waldman, MD.
Dr. Stewart earned her medical doctorate at Northeast Ohio Medical University and completed her rheumatology fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Waldman earned her doctorate at The Ohio State University and completed her fellowship at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. Both physicians are members of the ACR and Clinicians for the International Society for Clinical Densitometry (CISCD).
“Rheumatic diseases are often complex in nature and difficult to diagnose,” says Dr. Waldman. “Seeing a rheumatologist early on can help patients avoid waiting months to years before receiving what is often life-changing help.”
Dr. Stewart echoes that approach. “For patients with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, rheumatology is central to early diagnosis and treatment, which evidence suggests is most important within the first few months of disease onset to limit joint damage, improve physical function and induce remission,” she says.
“Luckily we know more now than ever before about these conditions ... .”
— Rachel Waldman, MD
Because of the complexity of rheumatic diseases, Dr. Stewart and Dr. Waldman approach each case in a unique manner, focusing on listening to the patient, understanding the symptoms and helping through treatment and education.
“The ability to manage many autoimmune diseases has progressed significantly. And because we have more patient data, research and treatment options, we have an improved opportunity to help patients figure out what’s going on with their bodies, and offer ways to get them feeling better and more normal,” says Dr. Waldman.
“There is often not a single test or procedure to make the diagnosis with most rheumatic issues, and patients suffering with these diseases can present with a great deal of ambiguity. That is why listening closely and thoroughly investigating history — both the patient’s and their family’s — is so vital to our practice,” adds Dr. Stewart.
They point to lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome as two examples from a long list of autoimmune and autoimmune-related diseases that can have major lifestyle impact but are traditionally hard to diagnose in the primary care setting.
“Systemic lupus erythematosus, or simply ‘lupus,’ and the lesser-known Sjogren’s Syndrome seriously alter an individual’s life. From decreased energy, dry eyes and mouth, pain, swelling and stiffness, special dietary restrictions, the need for daily medications and other alterations to what is considered a normal life, a patient can suffer greatly both physically and emotionally,” says Dr. Waldman.
“There is often not a single test or procedure to make the diagnosis with most rheumatic issues ... .”
— Kim Stewart, MD
Drs. Stewart and Waldman also help diagnose fibromyalgia and give treatment recommendations. In addition, they work with patients suffering with seronegative spondyloarthropathy and gout — the latter which is increasing in prevalence as it correlates with obesity.
“Luckily we know more now than ever before about these conditions, giving us an improved ability to serve and educate these patients and their loved ones who are also impacted by the diseases,” Dr. Waldman notes.
“One of the things we emphasize is the close relationship we develop with our patients,” says Dr. Stewart. “We get a thorough history and physical, perform some basic tests, and then it is largely sitting down and putting the pieces together. We are much less dependent on technology and more dependent on thinking.”
Dr. Stewart and Dr. Waldman accept referrals for patients presenting with a broad spectrum of symptoms. They strive to provide expert diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis, systemic autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain disorders, osteoporosis, gout, lupus, vasculitis, fibromyalgia and tendinitis. The two doctors understand the often urgent needs of patients with rheumatic disease and offer phone consultations and prompt appointment scheduling at both of their convenient locations: 2660 W. Market Street in Fairlawn and 5655 Hudson Drive in Hudson.
For more information or to refer a patient to Dr. Stewart or Dr. Waldman at Unity Health Rheumatology, call 330-926-3240 or 330-926-3462.