In our final article in our series on clinical evidence, we’re going to consider case studies and when to use them in your writing.
Case studies can provide real-life context to the research.
When used with other more experimental or manipulated clinical trial designs, they are a naturalistic source of clinical research.
Understanding data in its natural environment can be a powerful tool for health writers. By describing the complexity of real-life clinical practice, your points become more relevant and accurate.
What are case studies?
Case studies essentially explain how or why questions in research.
They are descriptive accounts of empiric events in real-life, and they provide a detailed critique of insights on aspects of health and healthcare delivery.
The method used to select cases isolates a small group – to study by demographic, a geographic area, or a limited number of individuals.
Information is collected by a qualified professional, such as a doctor, nurse or allied health worker.
Some of the different types of information collected may include:
- Clinical notes
- Medical records
Different types of case studies
Exploratory studies explore the environment around an intervention that does not have a clear, single set of outcomes.
They are often used in relatively new fields of research or scientific investigation.
These types of studies collect information without changing the environment to demonstrate associations or relationships between objects in the natural environment.
This helps obtain information about the naturally occurring behaviour or other characteristics of a particular group.
Explanatory case studies explain any trends found in the data.
These types of case studies are helpful for finding answers to explain assumptions of causal links in complex experiments.
For instrumental case studies, the case itself is secondary to understanding the clinical issue under investigation, and is used to scrutinise the events surrounding the case.
Multiple case studies explore differences within and between cases.
The aim is to test a theory that allows the replication of findings across cases to predict similar or contrasting results.
How you can use case studies in your writing
Case studies can be used to help understand a causal link between the medical intervention and why a therapy works in certain patient populations.
For example, you may source case studies to write about:
- Understanding barriers in medicine
- How patients in specific geographic regions make healthcare decisions
- Conducting a needs analysis
- Describing a patient’s experience of clinical care
- Which experiences inform patients decisions in their health care
- Exploring professional attitudes
- Understanding the experiences of a new policy initiative
- Why some events are statistically more likely to occur in specific patient populations
Although case studies used on their own may not give you all the evidence you need, they can actually be a great source of background contextual research for your writing.
They are most powerful when used with statistical analyses.
For example, if you’ve found it’s probable a patient event is significantly likely to occur, a case study may offer an explanation for why this event occurs.
These studies can also introduce new and unexpected results that lead your reading for references in a different direction.
They can help you understand the causes of medical conditions and why some treatments are not effective in some patients.
Most importantly, they can provide context for what actually occurs in real life.