A New Approach to Treating Musculoskeletal Disorders

​Vivian Shih, MD, examines a patient.

Vivian Shih, MD, examines a patient.  

Credit: Robert A. Lisak

The Stamford facility brings together physician specialists who collaborate to care for patients.

Peter Sherr, a distance runner for 30 years, was training for the New York Marathon in August when he tripped and fell, breaking bones and tearing ligaments in his left elbow and wrist. While the pain was intense, one of the first things he said to the doctor was: “I’d still like to run the marathon. Can you make that possible?”.

Sherr, the CEO of a software startup and a Greenwich resident, was one of the first patients to walk through the doors of the new Yale Medicine Center for Musculoskeletal Care (CMC) on Long Ridge Road in Stamford. He came in for a follow-up visit with members of the CMC’s team of experts after an evaluation in New Haven before the center opened. “I was convinced it was my elbow, but patients are amateurs. When they looked at the MRI, they found a whole bunch of other stuff,” said Sherr.

To contact the Center for Musculoskeletal Care, click here.

His injuries could have led to surgery; instead his doctor gave him a range-of-motion brace, which is allowing his arm to heal while he trains for the November marathon, and connected him with a hand specialist at the center.

New center opens

The Yale Medicine Center for Musculoskeletal Care in Stamford.

The Yale Medicine CMC is a collaboration between Yale Medicine and Yale New Haven Health. The new center provides comprehensive multidisciplinary care for lower Fairfield County patients with problems affecting the muscles, joints, bones and nerves—everything from arthritis and running injuries to fractures due to osteoporosis, as well as such chronic disorders as Parkinson’s disease and lupus.

 The new CMC is located in the Long Ridge Medical Center, a newly renovated building that is a joint venture between Yale Medicine and Greenwich Hospital, a Yale New Haven Health hospital. It’s close to both I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, and away from the traffic in Stamford’s business district.

Focus on ‘the patient experience’

“We designed the space to create an environment that truly reflects our commitment to partner with the patient on their journey to wellness,” says Mary O’Connor, MD, the director of the center. Patients can be seen in a “consult room” designed to promote patient and family engagement with seating around a semi-circular table. Patients who require a full physical examination can be moved to an adjacent traditional examination room.

A better patient experience

Mary O'Connor, MD, consults with a patient. The office is designed to improve the patient experience.

“If you just need to talk to the doctor, you don’t have to put on an exam gown,” Dr. O’Connor says. “Isn’t it nicer to be in a room like this where the environment supports a collaborative interaction, where the patient and the physician can be partners in the patient’s health journey? That is a design feature we incorporated into our Long Ridge Road site to reflect our commitment to the patient experience.”

A second distinction is the variety of musculoskeletal specialties represented at the center. “We integrated specialists from different areas of the musculoskeletal realm to practice side by side,” says Dr. O’Connor, who adapted the strategy from the Mayo Clinic, where she practiced and held leadership roles before joining Yale in 2015. At the Yale Medicine CMC, specialists can draw upon the expertise of colleagues in such areas as biomedical engineering, neurology, rheumatology, pain medicine and others. “The best diagnoses are made when all these really smart minds come together, and look at the data and the clinical scenario, and ask, ‘What do we think?’” Dr. O’Connor says.

The approach works especially well for musculoskeletal radiologists and diagnosing physicians, who are usually in separate locations and rarely collaborate, even though combining their skills can prompt discussions that change treatment plans.

Wide range of expertise

More than 20 specialists and subspecialists are available to see patients at the Yale Medicine CMC, including some who have strong ties to Fairfield Country. Frank DiFazio, MD, and Craig Tifford, MD, formerly practiced as part of the Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Center. They expect to continue their relationships with referring physicians in the area as they move their practice to the new center.

Theodore Blaine, MD, who is treating Peter Sherr, is a Greenwich resident, as well as a highly regarded sports medicine specialist who serves as a physician for the 2015 Connecticut state champion Darien High School football team as well as the Yale University athletic teams. He says patients in Greenwich will benefit from treatments and clinical trials that can be found only in an academic practice.

A broad range of services

Physical therapy is offered in the same building.

“Not only do we treat the problems, we also look at designing new solutions to problems,” says Dr. Blaine, who is also interim chair of the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine. “We offer new and innovative treatments that aren’t available anywhere else, and participate in clinical trials for new devices and new technologies.” Dr. Blaine, who has pioneered several new medical and surgical techniques, is currently studying new, longer-lasting materials for shoulder replacement. Doctors at the center are also interested in identifying genetic predictors of disease progression to help determine the best treatment and prevent hospital readmission.

Debra Petrucci, MD, a neurosurgeon who treated patients in Westchester County, NY, and in lower Fairfield County before joining Yale, thinks the new center will be a convenient alternative for patients. “In Southern Fairfield County, and certainly Westchester, the mindset has always been to go to Manhattan, and we now offer an excellent alternative,” she says. Meanwhile, patients who already see Yale doctors can now visit them closer to home, she says.

Dale Schuman, a retired editor for Reader’s Digest magazine, initially visited Dr. Petrucci to get help for her hip and back pain in a small, private Fairfield County office the doctor had maintained for longtime patients in that part of the state. Schuman, who was treated with medication for bursitis in her hip and physical therapy for her back, actually had to travel farther from her home in Ardsley, New York, to get to the Long Ridge Medical Center for a follow-up visit.

“Having imaging equipment and physical therapy on site does make a difference,” Schuman says. “When you have to go to another facility for those things, it's inconvenient. and time-consuming. I prefer having everything under one roof.”