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Laboratory focusses on helping hospital patients make decisions


Ottawa, ON – February 3, 2004 – The Ottawa Hospital Foundation and Bell Canada announced today the official opening of the Bell Patient Decision Support Laboratory – the first in Canada – thanks to a contribution of $500,000 provided by Bell Canada. Funding will go toward researching effective ways to help patients and their families facing difficult decisions about their health. It will also support the on-going development of tools called “decision aids”.

Decision aids, presented as worksheets, will benefit patients and healthcare practitioners alike. They can be tremendously useful to Canadians facing tough choices – such as deciding whether to place a family member with dementia in a care facility, or taking stronger drugs for arthritis.

“Beyond the latest medical information, decision aids help patients look at a difficult decision in the context of their values, their lifestyle and their beliefs”, says Dr Annette O’Connor, director of the new laboratory. “Decision aids don’t provide advice, nor do they replace professional counseling. They do improve knowledge of options and skills in participating in shared, tough decisions. As a result, professionals spend less time presenting facts and more time listening and discussing the personal issues and values of the patient and family.”

Dr O’Connor began researching ways to help patients and their families make difficult and emotional decisions and have them feel more confident about their choice. This research led to the development of several decision aids.

“As an example, a surgeon offers two women the options of mastectomy or lumpectomy plus radiation to treat their early breast cancer," she says. "Both options are equal in survival benefit, but one woman prefers a mastectomy because she most values relieving her worry about cancer returning in that breast, whereas the other prefers a lumpectomy plus radiation because she most values preserving her natural breast. There are no wrong answers here.”

The Bell Patient Decision Support Laboratory is the world’s clearinghouse for decision aids. Dr O’Connor leads an international Cochrane Collaboration team who catalogue and evaluate decision aids, and are setting international standards on how they should be developed. “It is crucial that these tools lead to informed, values-based decisions," she says. "They need to be based on the latest scientific evidence, balanced, effective in clarifying values, and developed by a credible team.”

Funding for the Bell Patient Decision Support Laboratory will also go toward computer workstations for patients to access health information and online decision aids. Patients will also be able to access video, audio and paper-based decision aids in the lab. Sophisticated audio and video recording equipment will enable researchers to study how patients use decision aids. The lab will also include a meeting room for focus groups and interviews.

Researchers at the laboratory, which is located within the Ottawa Health Research Institute (the research arm of the Ottawa Hospital), are also exploring better ways to train call center nurses, doctors, and other professionals in providing the decision support for tough decisions.