Expanding Access to Integrative Rheumatology

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May 20, 2021

For integrative rheumatologist Sarah Patterson, MD, “the most exciting thing that ever happens is when people get better.” As a clinician and researcher at the UCSF Osher Center, her work with patients is an “opportunity to bridge the best resources from biomedicine, like state-of-the-art laboratory assessment tools and medications, with really important and effective tools related to lifestyle medicine and borrowed respectfully from other healing traditions.” Dr. Patterson investigates the relationship between stress and inflammation in chronic immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, and whether stress resilience interventions can improve patients’ quality of life. 

Some of Dr. Patterson’s patients at the Osher Center are referred to her by Dr. Mehrdad Matloubian, professor, School of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology. Dr. Matloubian explains the importance of his collaboration with Dr. Patterson: “Many of our patients observe that stresses in their lives lead to disease exacerbations or flares. However, as rheumatologists, we are not equipped to address those concerns. Dr. Patterson’s integrative rheumatology clinic addresses this unmet need by educating patients and providing them with tools that can help reduce such stressors.”  

Dr. Patterson wanted to find a way to provide information to people living with rheumatic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), beyond her clinic’s reach. With the support of the Mount Zion Health Fund, Dr. Patterson started the Health through Lifestyle Modification and Engagement in Rheumatology (HEALER) Project. HEALER has two principle aims, to produce accessible educational materials for patients and to provide direct patient care to underserved patients with chronic autoimmune conditions. HEALER produced Nutrition for People with Rheumatic Diseases, a web-based resource that is already available. 

Dr. Patterson is collaborating with Cristina Lanata, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, UCSF Division of Rheumatology, who practices at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG), and Sara Tedeschi, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation, and Immunity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Together, they are developing patient-facing educational materials, including a booklet that answers common patient questions about nutrition, mind-body medicine practices, physical activity, sleep, and botanicals that can be safely taken with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. The booklet will be translated into Spanish and adapted for patients with different literacy levels. Dr. Patterson is actively working with Dr. Lanata to build connections between the ZSFG and Osher Center rheumatology clinics, so that traditionally underserved patients with chronic autoimmune conditions can receive integrative care.  

Dr. Patterson, now affiliated faculty member at the Osher Center, honed her research interests and skills as a pre- and postdoctoral fellow in the Osher Center’s Training in Research in Integrative Medicine (TRIM) Program. Then, as an Osher Center Integrative Medicine Scholar, she received direct training as she built an integrative rheumatology clinic at the Osher Center. Reflecting on her work, Dr. Patterson shares, “what’s exciting for me is the variety of therapeutic tools we can use to improve the lives of our patients. I find that when I meet patients where they are, they trust me and know that I am open to different treatment approaches. We adjust their diet and lifestyle along with medicines that could have a life-saving effect.” 


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