Decisions and Decisional Needs of Canadians From all Provinces and Territories During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Population-Based Cross-sectional Surveys

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2023 Mar 21:9:e43652. doi: 10.2196/43652.


Background: Never before COVID-19 had Canadians faced making health-related decisions in a context of significant uncertainty. However, little is known about which type of decisions and the types of difficulties that they faced.

Objective: We sought to identify the health-related decisions and decisional needs of Canadians.

Methods: Our study was codesigned by researchers and knowledge users (eg, patients, clinicians). Informed by the CHERRIES (the Checklist for Reporting Results of Internet E-Surveys) reporting guideline, we conducted 2 online surveys of random samples drawn from the Leger consumer panel of 400,000 Canadians. Eligible participants were adults (≥18 years) who received or were receiving any health services in the past 12 months for themselves (adults) or for their child (parent) or senior with cognitive impairment (caregiver). We assessed decisions and decisional needs using questions informed by the Ottawa Decision Support Framework, including decisional conflict and decision regret using the Decision Conflict Scale (DCS) and the Decision Regret Scale (DRS), respectively. Descriptive statistics were conducted for adults who had decided for themselves or on behalf of someone else. Significant decisional conflict (SDC) was defined as a total DCS score of >37.5 out of 100, and significant decision regret was defined as a total DRS score of >25 out of 100.

Results: From May 18 to June 4, 2021, 14,459 adults and 6542 parents/caregivers were invited to participate. The invitation view rate was 15.5% (2236/14,459) and 28.3% (1850/6542); participation rate, 69.3% (1549/2236) and 28.7% (531/1850); and completion rate, 97.3% (1507/1549) and 95.1% (505/531), respectively. The survey was completed by 1454 (97.3%) adults and 438 (95.1%) parents/caregivers in English (1598/1892, 84.5%) or French (294/1892, 15.5%). Respondents from all 10 Canadian provinces and the northern territories represented a range of ages, education levels, civil statuses, ethnicities, and annual household income. Of 1892 respondents, 541 (28.6%) self-identified as members of marginalized groups. The most frequent decisions were (adults vs parents/caregivers) as follows: COVID-19 vaccination (490/1454, 33.7%, vs 87/438, 19.9%), managing a health condition (253/1454, 17.4%, vs 47/438, 10.7%), other COVID-19 decisions (158/1454, 10.9%, vs 85/438, 19.4%), mental health care (128/1454, 8.8%, vs 27/438, 6.2%), and medication treatments (115/1454, 7.9%, vs 23/438, 5.3%). Caregivers also reported decisions about moving family members to/from nursing or retirement homes (48/438, 11.0%). Adults (323/1454, 22.2%) and parents/caregivers (95/438, 21.7%) had SDC. Factors making decisions difficult were worrying about choosing the wrong option (557/1454, 38.3%, vs 184/438, 42.0%), worrying about getting COVID-19 (506/1454, 34.8%, vs 173/438, 39.5%), public health restrictions (427/1454, 29.4%, vs 158/438, 36.1%), information overload (300/1454, 20.6%, vs 77/438, 17.6%), difficulty separating misinformation from scientific evidence (297/1454, 20.4%, vs 77/438, 17.6%), and difficulty discussing decisions with clinicians (224/1454, 15.4%, vs 51/438, 11.6%). For 1318 (90.6%) adults and 366 (83.6%) parents/caregivers who had decided, 353 (26.8%) and 125 (34.2%) had significant decision regret, respectively. In addition, 1028 (50%) respondents made their decision alone without considering the opinions of clinicians.

Conclusions: During COVID-19, Canadians who responded to the survey faced several new health-related decisions. Many reported unmet decision-making needs, resulting in SDC and decision regret. Interventions can be designed to address their decisional needs and support patients facing new health-related decisions.

Keywords: COVID-19; caregivers; decision regret; decisional conflict; health care; health care decisions; health outcome; older adults; pandemic preparedness; parents; public health decision; public health policy; shared decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics


  • COVID-19 Vaccines

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