Ottawa health researchers launch “iShould”, a decision making application on Facebook

May 28, 2009

Ottawa researchers are launching “iShould”, an application that helps people make difficult decisions and get feedback from friends on Facebook. Users simply type in their question, list the pros and cons, rate their importance and answer a few questions about their decision-making needs. The application then provides suggestions for next steps in the decision-making process and invites users to share the information with up to 20 Facebook friends and start a group discussion.

iShould was developed by a team of researchers at the Ottawa Health Decision Centre (affiliated with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa). Dr. Annette O’Connor, who directed the work, is a world-leader in the growing field of health decision-making. This field is based on the premise that people often make poor health decisions, either because they don’t understand the benefits and risks of a treatment, because they haven’t carefully considered how the treatment will impact them, or because they don’t have enough information or support in the decision-making process.

Over the last 15 years, Dr. O’Connor and her team have developed a number of “patient decision aids” to help patients make difficult decisions about treatments for cancer, arthritis, lung disease and other conditions. Her group has also developed a generic decision aid, called the Ottawa Personal Decision Guide, which has been downloaded more than 75,000 times. It has also been formally integrated into patient care at dozens of institutions around the world, including The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. iShould is a simplified version of this generic decision aid.

“We’re really hoping to target young people with iShould. We believe it could be a big help with difficult health decisions, but also with other life decisions such as attending university or college or choosing a career,” said Dr. O’Connor, Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Professor of Nursing at the University of Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Health Consumer Decision Support. “Young people are increasingly engaging in social networking through websites such as Facebook, so if we want to improve health decision-making in the next generation, we need to be there too.”

Facebook is used by more than 10 million Canadians, 60 per cent of whom are under the age of 25. In the initial phase, iShould will only be available to Facebook users aged 16 or older. Users will have the option of making some of their information available to the iShould research group, so that the application can be evaluated and improved over time. No identifying information will be collected. The research component of this project has been approved by the Ottawa Hospital Research Ethics Board.

About the Ottawa Health Decision Centre
The Ottawa Health Decision Centre is led by Dr. Annette O’Connor at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (affiliated with The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa). It was established in 1995 to help patients and their health practitioners make "tough" healthcare decisions. Dr. O'Connor holds Canada's first Research Chair in Health Care Consumer Decision Support. The team designs and tests decision aids and training programs for patients and health practitioners. It also maintains the world’s first and largest repository of these decision aids.

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the University’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The OHRI includes more than 1,300 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

Media contact
Jennifer Paterson, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Phone: 613-798-5555 x 19691
Mobile: 613-614-5253