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Southern DHB Rheumatology Services

Public Service, Rheumatology


Southern DHB (SDHB) Rheumatology is a district wide service primarily delivered from Dunedin Hospital.  
At Southland Hospital, the rheumatology service is provided by Dunedin-based rheumatologists who visit the hospital two days a fortnight. Referrals to the rheumatology service must be made via your General Practitioner.
What is Rheumatology?

Rheumatology is the specialty of medicine that includes arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Arthritis means inflammation of a joint. A joint is where two or more bones meet and move in relation to each other. They are separated by a rubbery substance called cartilage which is smooth and slippery, allowing for easy movement. Cartilage covers the end of each bone. Tendons and ligaments attach bones to muscles and other bones. Cartilage, tendons and ligaments are enclosed within a membrane around the joint which releases a fluid into the joint space to keep it well lubricated. Autoimmune disease is where an abnormality in the immune system leads to the body’s defence harming its own cells by mistake. A rheumatologist is a doctor who has specialised in this area of medicine. Your GP will refer you to see a rheumatologist if they think you have an autoimmune disorder or if they need assistance diagnosing or treating arthritis.


Referral Expectations

Your GP will refer you to our department if they think you may have arthritis or an autoimmune disease and they require a specialist opinion regarding the diagnosis or treatment of the condition.

Waiting times for clinics range from 1-6 months depending on urgency which is assessed from the referral letter we receive from your GP. Prior to coming to our clinic you may be asked to undergo tests such as blood tests or x-rays.

You will be seen by a rheumatologist or registrar (a doctor training to become a specialist who is under supervision). A history of your symptoms will be taken, as well as a review of any medications you are on (so please bring these with you). You may have further testing to establish the diagnosis.

The specialist or registrar will discuss with you the possible diagnosis and what further tests or treatments are recommended. They will contact your GP about your diagnosis, results of tests and a treatment plan. You may have ongoing follow-up in our clinic or be discharged back to the care of your GP.

You may also be referred to a physiotherapist, orthotist, or occupational therapist.

  • A physiotherapist provides physical therapy to assist with any disability you have.
  • An orthotist provides practical aids/footwear to help in overcoming any disability.
  • An occupational therapist reviews what equipment/advice will assist in activities of daily living if you have a disability.
We also have beds available at Dunedin Hospital under the care of a rheumatologist if you require admission to hospital for any treatment or testing.
Tests that may be required during or after your visit to the clinic include the following:
Joint Aspiration

Local anaesthetic is injected into the skin to numb the area and then a needle similar in size to that used to take a blood test is inserted into the space of your joint to take a sample of fluid. This is then sent to the laboratory for testing to aid in the diagnosis of your arthritis.

Skin Biopsy

Some conditions involve a rash and to make the diagnosis a biopsy needs to be taken. Local anaesthetic is injected into the skin to numb the area then a small cutting of skin is removed to be sent to the laboratory and examined under the microscope. The area is treated with a gauze dressing afterwards and usually doesn’t involve having any stitches.


X-rays are useful to examine joints and these may be requested of joints that give you pain and sometimes joints that have no symptoms to help with the diagnosis.
An X-ray is a high frequency, high energy wave form. It cannot be seen with the naked eye, but can be picked up on photographic film.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) gives even more detailed pictures of joints and organs so may be requested.
An MRI machine does not work like an X-ray or CT; it is used for exact images of internal organs and body structures. This method delivers clear images without the exposure of radiation.
The procedure uses a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves which results in an image being made using the MRI’s computer.

Common Conditions

  • Osteoarthritis (OA)

    Otherwise known as degenerative arthritis. OA occurs when there is a breakdown of the cartilage, leaving the bones unprotected.… More

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

    RA is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints.… More

  • Fibromyalgia

    This is a syndrome of widespread aches, pains and fatigue.… More

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

    This is an autoimmune disease where the immune system harms cells of the body.  It can affect the joints, skin, nervous system, kidneys and heart.  It is a disease for which there is no cure.… More

Contact Details

Dunedin Hospital

Dunedin - South Otago

Emergency Department: Open 24 hours / 7 days, Phone (03) 474 0999

201 Great King St

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Street Address

201 Great King St

Postal Address

Private Bag 1921
Dunedin 9054

This page was last updated at 11:43AM on May 23, 2022. This information is reviewed and edited by Southern DHB Rheumatology Services.