Objective: To describe the decision-making needs of Canadians when faced with 'complex' health decisions characterized by balancing advantages against disadvantages. Although a national report emphasized that public confidence in the health-care system depends on support for personal knowledge and decision-making, there has been no systematic investigation of the Canadian population's decision-making needs.
Design: Cross-sectional telephone survey using random digit dialling.
Participants: National sample of 635 adults over 18 years of age, living in Canada.
Results: Forty-two percentage of eligible contacts participated. Sixty-five percent of contacts reported making 'complex' health decisions, commonly about medical or surgical treatments or birth control, and more commonly by women and by married/separated individuals. Most respondents took an active role in their decisions, often sharing the process with their partner or family. Being younger was associated with a more independent role. Physicians were more often involved in the decisions of respondents with less education. Fifty-nine percent of respondents experienced decisional conflict; more conflict was seen with those who were female and feeling uninformed about options, pressured to select one particular option, and unready or unskilled in decision-making. Less decisional conflict was seen in those who reported birth control decisions and in those who were 70 years and older. Participants used several strategies when deliberating about choices including: information gathering, clarifying their values, and seeking support and information from others. Personal counselling and printed information materials were commonly preferred methods of learning about options. 'Essential' criteria for judging satisfactory decision-making included: having sufficient knowledge about the options, outcomes, and probabilities; being clear about values; selecting and implementing a choice that agrees with personal values; and expressing satisfaction with the choice.
Conclusions: Canadians, particularly women, face difficult decisions and need support and information from credible sources.