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Ask patients “What matters to you?” rather than “What’s the matter?”

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 22 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4045
  1. Sosena Kebede, assistant professor of medicine
  1. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA
  1. skebede3{at}

This can help reframe interactions in a more patient centered way

Maureen Bisognano, one of the keynote speakers at this year’s International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare in Gothenburg, Sweden, told delegates that we should ask our patients, “What matters to you?” rather than, “What is the matter?”

The question “What matters to you?” tries to get to the essence of patient centered care, which the Institute of Medicine has listed as one of the priorities for quality improvement.

As physicians, our success in treating illness depends mostly on our ability to diagnose what the matter is with the patient. Pattern recognition, attention to verbal and visual cues from the patient, deductive reasoning, and good clinical judgment are time revered skills that good physicians spend years perfecting.

Patient centered approach

The emphasis on diagnostic skill sets alone, however, has led …

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