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HealthPathways Northern Territory – productivity, partnership, and pride


Having only recently celebrated their 300-page milestone, the HealthPathways Northern Territory team are already reaching for the 400 mark, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.

The milestone was celebrated with the Northern Territory HealthPathways Governance Committee during the March quarterly meeting in Darwin. A cake and numbered balloons marked the occasion for the committee and Darwin NT PHN staff, while similar displays were shared in other Darwin and Alice Springs offices. 

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From left to right: Robyne Burridge, Disability Broker and Advocate, Focus-A-Bility; Dr Pauline Cundill, Medical Educator, Northern Territory General Practice Education; Dr Hugh Heggie, NT Chief Health Officer; Dr Tamsin Cockayne, Executive manager, Improvement and Integration, Health Network Northern Territory Ltd; Dr Andrew Webster, Northern Territory HealthPathways Program Manager; Dr Christine Connors, Executive Director Population and Primary Health Care, Top End Health Service; Sheryn Hemley, Northern Territory HealthPathways Coordinator.


Workflow clarity the key

Understanding the many demands placed on clinical editors (CEs) and doing as much as possible to improve the process for them is the key to minimising delays and maintaining momentum, says Sheryn Hemley, who was previously the Northern Territory HealthPathways Co-ordinator and is now the Programme Manager.

“Clinical editors are extremely busy people. We want our workflow process to be as simple and clear as possible – they should be able to walk in to their office, sit down and start on their pathway writing work immediately,” she says.

“We also encourage momentum to get pathways approved by starting the SME engagement process as soon as a pathway topic has been identified.” 

Sheryn emphasises the value of time invested in coaching and support for clinical editors. 

“This includes supporting CEs with new IT systems we have in our organisation, in particular the rollout of new videoconferencing tools (Microsoft Team) to stay connected, and aspects such as becoming familiar with screen sharing. Ongoing support is as important for experienced clinical editors as it is for those new to the role,” she says. 

“We need to make sure that everyone in the team has a common understanding of our internal and external processes. We continue to review workflows and Streamliners updates to stay informed across our different regions and working days. That aspect will never stop – we’re constantly improving how we do things.”


Working as a coordinated whole

Sheryn sees her pathway development coordination role as similar to a circus ringmaster, making sure that everything happens on time, with the team working as a coordinated whole.

“As some of our CEs can only commit one or two days weekly to HealthPathways, we try to make sure that we get the best value out of the time available for pathway work. We want to ensure that our CEs are supported in all aspects of their role, getting the best value out of their time whilst adhering to our deliverables. It’s my job to maintain the overview of everything that is going on, and see the programme as a whole,” she says.

Sheryn sees Dot as “the best record keeper”, and provides guidance for clinical editors on subject line wording to make it as easy as possible to pick up a Dot thread and be immediately up to speed. 

“This is really important when each clinical editor is likely to be working on several pathways at once,” she says. 


Proud of their achievements

The Northern Territory team have a lot to be proud about since their launch in May 2018, says Sheryn. 

Highlights include their work on Trauma Informed Care pathways, which were created with support from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT) and are a first in Australia. With the large Aboriginal population in the region, this continues to be an important pathway development area, says Sheryn. A Trauma Informed Care video resource is currently under development.

Pathways about Silica Exposure were also pioneered by the Northern Territory team, and the Clinical Excellence Commission of NSW has expressed interest in potentially adapting the Northern Territory Sepsis in Adults pathway for their community health setting.

“Good partnerships are what this work is all about,” says Sheryn. “Everyone is passionate about HealthPathways, so the more emphasis we place on consistent ways of working and approaching pathway development as a unified team, the more progress we make.”

A simple window sign in Sheryn’s office window helps keep the Northern Territory team focused on the common goal, and colleagues interested in the team’s progress.

“It’s low-tech but highly effective – we get comments on it all the time,” she says.

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Next priorities in a changed world

The Northern Territory team adapted well to the changed way of working during the pandemic lock-down and produced a lot of work on COVID-19 pages, says Sheryn. 

“For a small team, we’ve been really proud of the number of pages we’ve adapted for our region and how quickly we were able to turn them around,” she says.

During the lock-down the team were also able to turn their attention to other work, including partial updates and CE notes. This included responding to any COVID-19 developments and gradually returning to previous pathway development plans and new priorities for the six months ahead, as endorsed by the Northern Territory HealthPathways Governance Committee. 

Current work includes ENT, paediatrics, dental, and respiratory pathways. Other areas of focus will include Potential Preventable Hospitalisations (PPH), Antenatal, Palliative Care, and user feedback requests.

The team will also review which topics are most searched for within a pathway category.

“Searches show us the needs of our users and what we need to prioritise,” says Sheryn.

Reflecting on how things have changed as a result of the pandemic, Sheryn points to the increased use of telehealth over the period, and the growth in online service provision in areas such as mental health support and counselling. 

“Practitioners and those they care for are much more used to connecting online now,” she says. 

“In a region covering such huge distances as ours, this will continue to grow.”


Building local engagement

For tips and resources to help you build HealthPathways engagement in your area, see Getting General Practice Engaged with HealthPathways, or Engagement and Education. These resources have been provided by members of the HealthPathways Community.


If you have any questions about the Northern Territory HealthPathways Programme, please contact your lead writer.