Like a living room, the walls of Arthritis, Rheumatic & Back Disease Associates’ offices are papered with snapshots of employees’ children and grandchildren. Hiding within this mosaic are also Top Doc certificates, letters of appreciation from patients, and other evidence of the medical practice’s impact on the South Jersey community. But it is no accident that these accolades take second place to the photos. It is a reflection that the practice is an extended family.

This is what unites everyone at Arthritis, Rheumatic & Back Disease Associates — affectionately known as ARBDA. Founded in 1975, ARBDA has grown to become the largest rheumatology practice in New Jersey, with locations in Hamilton, Moorestown, Voorhees, and Washington Township, and one of the largest nationally. Yet it is distinguished by having maintained its community focus.

“When you come to visit us, we know you are sick or in pain, and we know that you are unique from every other patient that has ever walked in our door,” says Dr. Neha Patel, a physician at ARBDA seeing patients in Hamilton. “We aim to listen with compassion and provide the very best care for your particular situation.”

More Than Just Arthritis. Rheumatologists are the “primary care physicians” for bone and joint health. Most people correctly associate rheumatologists with arthritis, a debilitating and often chronic condition involving swollen and painful joints. Arthritis can have many causes. For example, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are autoimmune conditions whereas osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” on joints frequently related to aging.

“As we age, it is common to experience increased joint pain or discomfort,” says Dr. Patel, “but it can be hard to know what’s causing it or how to treat it. This is where we are the experts.”

Rheumatologists also diagnose and treat many other conditions that involve the musculoskeletal and immune systems. These include repetitive use or sports-related injuries like tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, knee or shoulder pain, or rotator cuff tears. They also include lupus, gout, ankylosing spondylitis, and polymyalgia rheumatica.

Osteoporosis, or increasing bone fragility, is another area of specialization at ARBDA. It is especially important for women age 55 or older to be monitored for osteoporosis since bones naturally weaken after menopause. Weak bones can contribute to severe fractures, typically of the hip or spine, from low-impact trips or falls. This can lead to chronic pain, decreased independence, the need for long term nursing care, and sometimes even death. A rheumatologist can help to assess osteoporosis risk and provide early medical intervention that reduces the chance of osteoporosis-related fractures.

Academic Rigor. The 13 physicians at ARBDA — all rheumatologists — are extremely passionate about their field. ARBDA physician Dr. Janet Krommes, who sees patients in Moorestown, believes there are real advantages to being part of such a large, single-specialty practice: “One of the best things about our scale is our academic discourse. We can compare notes, discuss the merits of different treatments, and work together to manage complex cases.”

As ARBDA has evolved, it has incorporated the latest diagnostic methods and treatments into its standard of care. ARBDA has been a leader in adopting musculoskeletal ultrasound, a method of imaging joints and soft tissue to look for injuries, tears, or inflammation. It is one of the few practices in the region to offer this service.

ARBDA partner Dr. Amy Evangelisto heads up the practice’s ultrasound program. She is the current president of USSONAR, the organization responsible for rheumatologic ultrasound training and certification in all of North America. According to Dr. Evangelisto, “Ultrasound allows us to quickly and conveniently diagnose many joint problems, and we can use it to guide interventional procedures.”

The practice is also proud of its infusion capabilities. Many rheumatology medications are infused —administered intravenously over a period of up to several hours — and patients are often required to travel to a hospital for this service. ARBDA infuses in three of its four offices (with the fourth to be added early next year), providing patients with convenience and flexibility that is not possible in a hospital setting.

ARBDA helps its patients to access the latest pharmaceutical products through participation in clinical trials — investigational studies of new drugs or of existing drugs in new uses. Partner Dr. Joshua Sundhar is the physician responsible for ARBDA’s clinical trials department. “The decision to participate in a clinical trial is entirely up to the patient,” says Dr. Sundhar. “But for patients who are candidates for new treatments, it’s great that we can provide options at the leading edge of rheumatologic medicine.”

A Patient is a Person. ARBDA has worked hard to avoid the pitfall of expanding only to become a cold and impersonal factory. The practice’s goal has been to grow large enough to be able to provide the highest quality care without compromising sensitivity for the individual patient. It is a difficult balance to strike. “Our patients are seeing us at their most vulnerable,” says practice manager Betty Grimmett. “We are here to make them physically well, but also emotionally comforted, and that responsibility is central to everything we do.”

This philosophy is palpable everywhere at ARBDA. Attitude is a chief criterion for hiring, and everyone on the team shares a passion for doing good for the greater community. This caring is applied inwards as well, and there is a definite camaraderie among employees, many of whom have been colleagues for dozens of years.

For all of ARBDA’s employees, the payoff comes when a patient arrives for a return visit feeling better and fully capable of doing everything that he or she loves, whether is it returning to work, knitting a sweater, or running a 5K. “Until they are affected, a lot of people don’t know that rheumatologic disease can have a bigger impact on quality of life than even cancer or cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Patel. “When I can help make a patient’s life better … Well, that’s why I became a doctor in the first place.”

Arthritis, Rheumatic & Back Disease Associates has offices in Hamilton, Moorestown, Voorhees, and Washington Township. If you have questions about joint pain or your musculoskeletal health, please visit www.arthritissj.com or call Arthritis, Rheumatic & Back at 856-424-5005.

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