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Beware the case study and other stories

In Evidence-Based Medicine, How to work better on September 9, 2008 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , , ,

Gosh, so busy here at work. Here’s an interesting little post to be getting on with though. An advertising, marketing chap writing on the danger of using case studies to prove a point. Something we (at least hopefully) have long since come to accept in the world of medicine. Mark Earls reminds us that however often we like using the things, “Case studies force things into an oversimplified narrative arc which we chose to reflect and support our preferred ideas about how things are […] Remember: the reason why you’re being told the story you’re being told is because it makes the point seem real. It makes it tangible. It makes it seem clear. And to whose benefit is that?”

So should we be using the case study at all – ever – the level of evidence they supply is so weak that surely they’re of little or no use to anyone. Well I think they have their uses. They are nice for telling stories (invites the listener to place themselves in the story and imagine what they might do – you can take courses on it), though while they add flavour and realism they don’t prove that the story is true. And secondly they can generate hypotheses worthy of further consideration: “Oh gosh, look at that, hmmm… interesting, I wonder if…” – that sort of thing. But should case studies ever be used to prove anything? Well, I have a story about that…

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2 Responses to “Beware the case study and other stories”

  1. […] Case Studies: Uses and Limitations September 14, 2008 Earlier in the month, the health informaticist drew attention [1] to a post by marketeer Mike Tyldesley on the dangers of reliance on case studies to make a […]

  2. […] but not as we knew it Case Studies in the Late 17th Century September 15, 2008 Alan Lovell’s post on the uses of case studies really got me thinking and fishing around on the web – so often in health information we deal only […]

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