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What Is a Medical Case Study?

wednesday wisdom Mar 02, 2022

               The news cycle of the 2020’s apparently will continue to mention more medical studies in the nightly news for a while longer.  With COVID’s ups and downs depending on the variant du jour, we can expect to read more study reports on social media and hear more news casters describing how the latest study changes everything.

With that expectation, you should have a basic understanding of different types of medical studies.  Today, we review case studies and case series.  They are simple studies that can be done without significant training or effort on the part of the researcher, but they carry less impact in determining efficacy of a treatment.

Case studies are simply the stories of individual patients experiencing a particular symptom or disease going through a particular therapy course.  They are helpful in terms of studying a condition, especially if the condition is newly discovered or poorly understood.  Other medical providers who have not seen the condition in their own patients can learn from the example.  Medical researchers can also use these examples to design larger studies that provide more definitive answers to the condition.

Case series are similar to case studies, but include a collection of patients with a similar condition, watching them as they proceed through a therapy or combination of therapies to see what outcomes they have.  The patients and the medical providers caring for them make decisions without any influence from the observing researcher.  The observing researcher simply tracks progress and results and reports those systematically in the case series.  Again, this allow other provider to learn from examples and researchers to better design further studies.

               These studies are great starting points in that they provide initial insights into a medical question and allow others to learn together.  When you are trying to understand the medical literature, use insights from case studies and case series as tools towards better health decisions as we seek optimal health in the 2020’s and beyond.  Just don’t use them for your sole or final evidence unless the world or research offers no other sources.  If no other study offers clearer guidance, proceed with great caution. 

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