Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Annette O'Connor

The complexity of modern medical care can sometimes overwhelm patients, often when they are most vulnerable. Facing difficult choices among multiple treatment options, patients may feel unsure, uninformed, sometimes worried and distressed.  Actively engaging patients in their own treatment and supporting them in shared decision-making with physicians and caregivers is the pioneering work of Dr. Annette O’Connor, Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of Ottawa School of Nursing, who has helped make respect for patient agency an accepted part of enlightened and humane medical practice.  O’Connor’s research, focusing on the relationship between the expertise of health professionals and the human needs of patients, provides guidelines for achieving effective and informed decision-making, joining technical and procedural know-how with patients’ individual values and self-determination.  An ongoing movement away from directive paternalism to collaborative partnerships in medical care has been powerfully assisted by O’Connor’s extensive research, organizational skill, and inspired leadership.  Believing that “knowledge is power,” O’Connor has increased understanding and cooperation in clinical practice throughout Canada and the world.

Dr. O'Connor’s germinal contributions to the field of shared decision-making focus on developing, evaluating, and implementing decision support tools for patients and clinicians. Her leadership has been pivotal in creating international academic forums, including the International Shared Decision Making biennial conference.  She led the first reviews of patient decision aid trials and co-led a 14-country international consortium to establish standards for their development and evaluation (IPDAS). In an era of information overload and multiple treatment and healthcare options, Dr. O’Connor’s conceptual framework, decision support tools, evaluation measures, training programs, and international standard setting have all greatly improved the quality of decision support for both patients and clinicians. These resources, now publicly available online, have helped inform and improve health care practices worldwide.  Dr. O’Connor has trained numerous individuals, forming a new generation of researchers in the field of shared decision making. Her research was recognized internationally by the Society for Medical Decision Making with awards for career achievement and exemplary leadership. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

One of the great challenges of our time is finding ways to combine the constantly expanding powers of our medical technology and its institutional forms with informed compassion and respect for individual patient needs and choices.  Dr. O’Connor’s work is helping us achieve a new balance between scientific knowledge and human understanding in clinical practice by uniting efficiency with humanity in exemplary health care.