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An introduction to case reports for chiropractors and chiropractic students.

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Case Reports

What are case reports?

  • A case report is a formal process of communicating with others about a unique clinical situation.
  • Case reports offer an avenue of communication between providers, enabling a formal and scholarly process of sharing of information and experiences that may be relevant to others.
  • Case reports represent a first line of evidence.
  • Case reports often describe positive responses to care. However, they can also describe uncommon symptom presentations, poor responses, unusual or rare conditions, or other unusual clinical encounters.

What case reports are not:

  • Case reports are not research. Instead, they are descriptions of what was observed or occurred in clinical settings.
  • Case reports are not designed to determine cause and effect relationships. Even though one event precipitates another, fostering a unique experience worthy of a case report, such events do not represent evidence for causation. Specific forms of scientific research are required to address causality.
  • Case reports are not high-quality scientific evidence. However, they can offer the first glimpse of emerging conditions, clinical situations, and knowledge that can potentially be very informative.
  • Case reports are not obsolete. They are a vital method of scholarly communication that fosters:
    • scientific writing and critical decision-making skills
    • communication among providers of similar and disparate disciplines
    • education by the sharing of learned lessons
    • the identification of rare manifestations of conditions and/or response to care
    • the identification of new trends

What is a case series?

  • A case series is a case report in plural. However, for a few different reasons, some case series are considered research. So, anyone considering a case series should first consult with an institutional review board.
  • When a case series is not considered research, institutional review board approval is technically not a requirement. However, the only way to know this for certain is to seek institutional review board approval for any case series.
  • To publish a case series, scientific journals may require either an approval or exemption letter from an institutional review board. Exemption letters describe ethical review of the project and specifically state the characteristics of the project that make approval unnecessary.
  • Institutional review board approval or exemption must be sought prior to beginning a project involving a case series. Seeking approval or exemption after a project is conducted or a manuscript drafted is too late.

What about consent and privacy concerns?

  • Most scientific journals require authors to submit consent forms signed by patients about whom case reports are written. Some journals have specific consent forms, which may also suggest or require patients review the manuscript prior to journal submission.
  • To avoid inadvertent disclosure of protected information, case reports should be written such that it is not possible for others to identify a person about whom a report is written.


Content approved by the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research

CARE Case Report Guidelines

Case Report Books