Mackay initiative helping to improve the health and wellbeing of patients on the autism spectrum

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Arming people with the right information and resources can drastically improve health outcomes for autistic patients. The new Mackay Autism HealthPathway seeks to provide clinicians with a knowledge resource to do just that. This world-first initiative is helping to empower primary health care professionals in the region to improve and support the health and wellbeing, across the lifespan, of people on the Autism spectrum.

Adapted from North Queensland PHN News

The innovative project was implemented to develop a targeted clinical HealthPathway that could support general practitioners (GPs) and primary health care professionals to link children, adolescents, and adults with autism to the most appropriate health services for their individual needs.

Dr Kennedy, Senior GP Clinical Editor for Mackay HealthPathways, was responsible for compiling existing research and information about autism using HealthPathways, to ensure GPs could access meaningful and evidence-based information in a concise format during a patient consult.

“Autism is a complex condition and GPs feel under prepared, under educated, under resourced, and their systems don’t function very well to allow people on the spectrum to access those systems well,” Dr Kennedy said.

“HealthPathways was designed to provide health professionals with a knowledge base and ready to use resources, that are always available and locally relevant, so the information provided to a patient is relevant to the medicine a GP locally practices.

“I was tasked with utilising the existing structure of the HealthPathways platform to cover assessment, management, local resources, local referral options, and further resources that would help clinicians.”

The initiative was a collaboration, spanning over two-years from research to implementation, between Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN), Mackay Hospital and Health Service, Mackay HealthPathways, the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), the University of Queensland, Streamliners, and the Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability.

Early consultations with local health care professionals, subject matter experts, and the community showed that existing pathways only focused on early identification and diagnosis, showing a gap in management post diagnosis. The findings captured from local research also matched closely with results from international literature on the topic.

Integrated Health Manager and General Practice Liaison Officer at Mackay Hospital and Health Service Toni Simmons worked closely with Dr Kennedy in the Mackay HealthPathways Team and shared both a professional and personal purpose in driving the initiative.

“What a lot of people forget, Autism is a condition that you have for your whole entire life, so the idea was to develop pathways that cover the whole lifespan,” Ms Simmons said..

“From a health professional’s perspective, we had this amazing tool and vehicle to implement change, and not just on a local perspective, but also scale that up across an entire community.

“I also got involved and passionate in this space as I have lived experience with a child that’s on the spectrum. I know and saw firsthand what some of the gaps were after you get the diagnosis—getting information on where to go, on management, and what’s available.

“By equipping our health professionals with the right tools and resources, we can support them in helping their patients live happier, healthier, longer lives.”

The Autism HealthPathways was launched for clinical use in Mackay and introduced to local GPs at a symposium event titled ‘Through their eyes… Through their lives…’. It has since been accessed by primary care professionals across the Mackay region, with further interest in the HealthPathways expressed more broadly.

“Since the launch, utilisation of the pathway has been tracked to ensure continuous quality improvement, so that feedback and improvements are captured and reflected in iterative versions,” Dr Kennedy said.

The Autism HealthPathways can be accessed by other regions within the HealthPathways community, assisting primary health care professionals to better support their patients on the spectrum to receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time across the lifespan.

To learn more about Autism HealthPathways, please contact your local HealthPathways or visit www.healthpathwayscommunity.org 

The Mackay Autism HealthPathways launch: Image (left to right): Dr Michalis Yiallourides – Townsville Hospital Staff Specialist Paediatrics, Dr Aaron Kennedy – Lead GP Clinical Editor Mackay HealthPathways, Dr Katie Brooker – Autism CRC funded postdoctoral research fellow UQ, Toni Simmons – Integrated Health Manager/GPLO, Karin Barron – Executive Director Health System Integration and Innovation Northern Queensland Primary Health Network, Dr James Best – NSW GP and Associate Professor David Harley – Senior Clinician with the Mater Research Institute-UQ and Director to the Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability.