Doctor’s diary: Sarat’s journey to Home Hill triumph

By Indira Laisram
Dr Sarat Chandra Viswanadh with wife Dr Pavani Ganapathi and daughter // Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

Dr Sarat Chandra Viswanadh began his medical career in the rural town of Nellimarla in Andhra Pradesh, India. Joining the newly established Maharajahs Institute of Medical Sciences (MIMS) in 2004, he was part of the second batch, dedicating six years to serving the institute. Cut to the present, Dr Sarat stands as an award-winning general practitioner in Home Hill, yet another rural town in Australia, displaying the expansive landscape of his medical journey.

“My father always wanted me to become a doctor because he couldn’t become one due to the regulations at the time,” reflects Sarat. “I always felt this was a calling.”

So Sarat turned his father’s pervasive dream into reality by completing his medical degree at MIMS. After gaining experiences in India, Malaysia, and Singapore, Sarat, along with a few friends, decided to make the move to Australia. Another motivating factor for him was the presence of his sister, who had already relocated to Australia.

Dr Sarat Chandra Viswanadh with wife Dr Pavani Ganapathi // Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

In 2013, Sarat brought his healing touch to Western Australia, where he spent a year in a small practice before settling in Townsville in 2014. Here he took over Home Hill Surgery.

“I completed fellowships, recruited new doctors every year, and now we are a six-member team of healthcare professionals,” says Sarat of his practice, which serves not only the local town but also a radius of about 100 km.

How Sarat significantly improved the town of Home Hill since the commencement of his practice is noteworthy. Prior to his involvement, the town, with a population of approximately 3,000, had only 2-3 doctors available at most.

Dr Sarat Chandra Viswanadh with wife Dr Pavani Ganapathi // Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

Prior to his takeover, the doctors were conducting home visits, but they charged fees and overlooked palliative care, leading many to choose hospitals and endure prolonged wait times.

Subsequently, Sarat initiated changes. “We now offer bulk-billed home visits, provide high-risk palliative care for end-of-life patients, assumed the care of nursing home patients, and extended our services to weekends—all without any charges, whether it’s a home visit or a visit to our practice. This strategic approach has substantially expanded our services.”

Perhaps, one of the most significant accomplishments Sarat has achieved is providing end-of-life care at home.

Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

He shares an example. In 2014, when someone was terminally ill at home and required morphine, the doctor used to make four visits a day to administer injections. Recognising the need for a more efficient approach, Sarat introduced the syringe driver service—a device that releases medication slowly.

“By placing patients on a syringe driver capable of staying on for up to seven days, we eliminated the need for four daily visits. We conducted training sessions for families and collaborated with a community group called Blue Nurses, fostering a motivated team effort to ensure patients receive compassionate end-of-life care.”

Today, Home Hill Surgery is the sole healthcare provider in Home Hill, says Sarat, adding, “On average, we see about 600-700 patients per week.”

Dr Pavani Ganapathi with a patient // Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

Another notable example of Sarat’s commitment to patient care involved a challenging case. A patient presented with a complex set of symptoms that eluded clear diagnosis by several healthcare professionals. Determined to find answers, Sarat embarked on an extensive research journey, consulting medical literature, attending conferences, and collaborating with specialists.

“I visited the Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, gathered information, and attended a couple of seminars, effectively enhancing my knowledge and skills to manage her condition. Although she now resides in Brisbane, she continues to visit me twice a year, traveling 1,100 km as her GP,” says Sarat.

Also, with the knowledge gained, he was able to deliver a presentation to local GPs. “While it is an incurable disease, I provided as much assistance as a GP could, collaborating with other specialists to ensure comprehensive care.”

Interestingly, Sarat’s approach to healthcare goes beyond routine medical services. A firm believer in holistic care, he diversified his skills through fellowships in pain management, paediatrics, nutritional medicine, and more. Notably, he stands out as one of the few GPs in Australia delving into the realm of cannabis medical marijuana for pain management.

The innovative spirit doesn’t end with medical treatments. Sarat is also actively involved in community services through the Lions Club, organising preventive activities such as diabetes camps, educational talks, and social events like charity services.

Looking forward, the objective is to retain the current services, given the presence of four international doctors. However, there’s an awareness that, once they complete their fellowships, they are likely to pursue new opportunities.

Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

The challenge lies in the potential departure of a full-time doctor, which can be problematic in Australia. Although this is not a current concern, there’s a sense of apprehension for the future, believes Sarat.

Currently, the medical team has expanded, alleviating the workload from Sarat. Services are distributed among the team, including Sarat’s wife, Dr Pavani Ganapathi, who specialises in women’s health and paediatrics, actively sharing patient responsibilities and contributing to a balanced roster.

“The success of Home Hill Surgery” says Sarat, “is a testament not only to the team’s medical prowess but also to the unwavering support of my wife. She manages the practice’s background intricacies; she is the unsung hero behind the scenes.”

Photo by David Moyle from Get Shot by The Weekend Photographer

Their union, an arranged marriage, has grown into a formidable partnership both personally and professionally.

Sarat has woven his Indian heritage into the fabric of Australian healthcare. “Vaidhyo Narayano Harihi,” a phrase from his roots, resonates in his practice, emphasising a holistic and ethical approach to patient care.

For all his work, there has been a rush of validation. Sarat was awarded GP of the year (North Queensland Primary Health Network’s GP) in 2018 and in 2020, he was Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) GP of the Year.

As Sarat looks toward the future, the prognosis is promising.

“I wanted to carry forward that patient satisfaction and patient work and deliver my best to everyone who walks through that door.”

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