Patient Engagement: A Mom Transforms Experience to Advocacy at UH

Most people find their careers. Chrissie Blackburn’s found her.

Chrissie BlackburnAs the mother of a medically fragile daughter, she spent countless hours in hospitals and doctors’ offices. This deep experience with complex health care – good and bad – turned Mrs. Blackburn into a champion for patients and their families.

Today, she invests her passion, experience and expertise into reshaping health care around patients’ and families’ needs as University Hospitals’ first Principal Advisor of Patient and Family Engagement. In her pioneering role, she’s showing patients, families and caregivers how to be a winning team.

“The most important thing a hospital can do for a patient,” Mrs. Blackburn said, “is to positively partner with them and their family.”

Dealing with daughter Lily’s complex care needs inspired Chrissie Blackburn to become a nationally known advocate for patient engagement. “Lily,” she says, “is the reason why I am doing everything today to improve care for patients and families tomorrow.”

Her journey began in San Diego in 2007, when daughter Lily was born with an extremely rare and complex disorder that caused a host of physical malformations. Surgeries and checkups became a family routine. As the list of specialists and appointments grew, so did the practical and emotional challenges of coordinating Lily’s care. Too often, the system seemed to be designed around hospitals and doctors, instead of patients. There had to be better ways, Mrs. Blackburn knew, and she set out to find them.

The Blackburns moved back home so Lily could receive care at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Looking for support, Mrs. Blackburn joined Rainbow’s Family Advisory Council. There she found families addressing similar challenges with hospital leaders committed to finding solutions. That fueled her passion.

“I dove in head first, joining national councils and researching the many efforts and best practices emerging in health care quality,” Mrs. Blackburn recalled.

She went from student to instructor, building a national reputation as an advocate for patient engagement and caregiver empathy. Her expertise and charisma impressed UH senior leaders, who created a new role for Mrs. Blackburn. Now, she’s creating systems that encourage patients, their families and their caregivers to collaborate around the lessons of teamwork and communication that she has learned and lived.

“Lily is my experience, my strength and my hope,” Mrs. Blackburn said. “She is the reason why I am doing everything today to improve health care for patients and families tomorrow.”

Read more highlights from another great year in the 2014 UH Annual Report.