What matters to you?

It is a question that can evoke vastly different responses from patients, colleagues, friends and family members. For one MGH patient, it’s a slice of toast in the morning. For another person, trust is essential. From a freshly brewed cup of coffee to the feeling of making a difference, the answers are as personal, important and ever-changing as each person’s individual health care journey.

“The question of ‘what matters to you?’ is crucial,” says Susan Edgman-Levitan, PA, executive director of the MGH Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation. “This simple inquiry can provide us with more meaningful insight into a person’s life and what they value most. This awareness can help us create customized plans of care and deepen the connection between the people who provide care and patients who receive that care.”

Edgman-Levitan says the idea is one she and Michael Barry, MD, medical director of the Stoeckle Center, introduced in a 2012 New England Journal of Medicine article. The concept has been embraced by many, including the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which now participates in an international “What Matters to You?” Day. The MGH will join the festivities this year, hosting its inaugural event June 5 from noon to 1:30 pm under the Bulfinch Tent.

“The idea in its most basic form is to ‘Ask. Listen. Do,’” says Mary Cramer, chief experience officer and executive director of Organizational Effectiveness, MGH Center for Quality and Safety. “This helps build trust, empathy and understanding. In a clinical setting, it helps to align our care plans with patient preferences. In a work setting, it promotes collegiality and a shared mission.”  

MGH clinicians who have started to introduce this idea into their clinical areas say they have seen a positive response from both patients and staff. Lindsay Carter, MD, inpatient director for Quality and Safety, Mass General for Children, says pediatric patients in all inpatient units are invited to complete a “What Matters” sign to hang above their bed with words or phrases describing their likes, dislikes and a few facts about them.

“Staff can engage in a personal conversation more quickly with patients,” Carter says. “Importantly, it also signals to a child and family that we care about what matters to them, and this, in turn, empowers them to tell us.”


Primary Care physician Gregg Meyer, MD, says that during the month of March he required all clinicians working on his Bigelow Service team to include their patient’s responses to the question “what matters to you?” when taking the patient’s history. “I can say that the answers were not surprising, as most – about 50 percent of they time – said they wanted to get better,” Meyer says. “But in at least 25 percent of cases, we learned something very important about the patient that changed – directly or indirectly – our care plan and our approach to the patient.”

What matters to you? Is it a day with family and friends? Is it a warm chocolate chip cookie? MGH staff are invited to share their thoughts and read what colleagues have to say by visiting the What Matters to You? site on Apollo, the MGH intranet. 

This article was originally published in the 05/31/19 Hotline issue.