Dr Gareth Tarr – Rheumatology practice delivering well rounded support

Posted on 8 October 2019

If you walk into the Winelands Rheumatology practice based in Stellenbosch, one does not get the usual feeling of a classic sterile environment or cold waiting room. There is almost a happy buzz amongst the staff. This, it seems, is symptomatic of the whole practice. They see it as a family rather than patients and doctors.

“The nature of the conditions we are dealing with results in long term treatment. These are chronic conditions and quite often, multi-organ conditions as well. We get to know our patients, we know their medical history but also their families and the ups and downs that go along with the conditions they are living with,” explains Dr Gareth Tarr, rheumatologist

Dr Tarr is a rheumatologist, and his practice forms part of the expertise available at newly opened Mediclinic Winelands Orthopaedic Hospital. His ongoing research into rheumatology treatments includes the one of the largest clinical trial sites in the country and he manages local support groups for all patients with auto-immune diseases.

“Rheumatologists are quite scarce in South Africa, and we are trying to meet quite a large need amongst patients with autoimmune diseases,” he explains, “We believe that it is essential that family doctors or GPs diagnose their patients early and accurately, so that they can obtain the necessary support and treatment as soon as possible.” To achieve this Dr Tarr and his colleagues at Winelands Rheumatology hold regular CPD talks amongst referring doctors to increase their understanding of the conditions and symptoms that are most prevalent.

The feeling of family permeates much of what is done in the practice. There are trained nurses that are constantly in contact with patients regarding  blood results or where medication needs to be adjusted or changed, for Dr Tarr this relationship is vital, “We are here to support. It is not like a traditional surgery where the patient receives treatment, recovers and then does not require the doctor any more. Here we are always working on ways to improve quality of life.”


What does the ongoing support look like?

Support Groups  (Auto-immune, biologic and SLE support groups)
Whether it be through their Facebook page, word of mouth or referrals from the public sector, there seems to be a common desire to understand what others are living with – and indeed what is working for others. Dr Tarr sees the get-togethers as an opportunity to grow friends, learn more and ultimately create an improved quality of life for his patients. For this purpose, he established the Non-Profit Organisation (NPO), Winelands Musculoskeletal Support Group.

New treatment trials through the research clinic
Any patient is eligible to be assessed for the new treatments. If the patient meets the relevant criteria and current treatments are not working for them, the new treatment options are trialed through the practice. The expense of biologic drugs limit many people who require this level of treatment to control the active inflammatory diseases, and thus the trials are used as an extension of care for drug access.

Pain treatments
Pain is an everyday reality for many patients at the rheumatology practice. Many feel that they have exhausted the traditional options and come to Dr Tarr for assistance. Treating pain is complex and cannot just take the form of medication, therefore a more holistic view is adapted to individualise treatment.


In the end, one gets the feeling that support takes the form of whatever is required to ensure the best possible quality of life for their patients.

Published in Innovation