A Vision for "What Matters to You?"

What if every clinician, staff member, and community health worker routinely asked, “What matters to you?” — and listened attentively at every encounter with individuals and their family members? What would we learn? How would understanding “What Matters” enhance our ability to develop genuine partnerships with individual patients?

Clinicians, health care staff, and community health workers around the world seek to understand the comprehensive needs and goals of the patients they serve. Yet, in the busy world of clinical care, there are innumerable situations where what really matters to patients and their family members is not understood or addressed.

In their 2012 New England Journal of Medicine article, Dr. Michael Barry and Susan Edgman-Levitan introduced the concept of asking, “What matters to you?” as well as, “What is the matter?” in the context of implementing shared decision making. Their ambition was to increase clinicians’ awareness of important issues in their patients’ lives that could drive customized plans of care.

IHI believes that “What Matters” is a simple, yet profound concept that is key to creating deeply personal engagements with patients and their family members, a deeper understanding of what really matters to them, and is the foundation of developing genuine partnerships for co-creating health.

We’ve learned about many examples of dramatic, positive impact when clinicians inquire more deeply about what is really important to their patients. In many cases, asking about “What Matters” has improved the individual’s care plan and enhanced the patient’s relationship with their health care provider. In some cases, we’ve learned about improved health outcomes.

"What Matters" in the Home Health Setting
Catherine Mather, IHI Senior Project Manager, explains the origins of incorporating “What matters to you?” in addition to “What’s the matter?” She also tells the stories of Frank and Ethel, and how changing how their care providers communicate with them helped improve their overall health.
"What Matters" in the Office Practice Setting
Christina Gunther-Murphy, IHI Executive Director, describes cards that are used in an office practice to help frame conversations between patients and care providers to address health and health care concerns.
"What Matters" in the Hospital Setting
Pat Rutherford, IHI Vice President, shares how understanding deeply personal things about pediatric patients can help improve their care in the hospital. She also shares strategies around whiteboard use and medication management to use the concept of “What matters to you?” to improve patient care.
Changing the Conversation from "What's the matter?" to "What matters to you?"
In this video from her 2012 IHI International Summit keynote presentation, IHI President and CEO Maureen Bisognano outlines a vision of changing the conversation to find out what matters to patients and their families.
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