The do’s and don’ts of writing and publishing case reports
March 6, 2023 | 5 min read
By My Pham
Lessons from a recent Researcher Academy webinar
As a method of documenting a single clinical observation, case reports offer timely and valuable information, especially with regards to rare diseases. They show medical professionals how fellow practitioners have acted in similar situations and thus aid in the decision-making process by sharing best practices. Not only do they significantly contribute to the knowledge pool, they also help add to a researcher’s own publication portfolio. Producing a good case report requires much more than just an interesting case, however.
To assist researchers with this task, Professors Oliver Kurzai and Adilia Warris, editors of the journal Medical Mycology Case Reports(opens in new tab/window) shared tips on writing high impact case reports in the latest Researcher Academy webinar(opens in new tab/window). We are pleased to share here some quick do’s and don’ts from the webinar.
Tell a story
The best way to compose a case report is to tell a story. This can be accomplished by arranging the events in chronological order, being specific about your differential diagnostic considerations, elucidating the arguments for your clinical decision-making process, and following up to round off the story neatly. This will create an imaginary journey where your readers can follow every development of the case and understand why you have performed specific tests or made certain decisions during a particular treatment.
Get the details right
Make sure to describe the relevant signs and symptoms which have resulted in the differential diagnosis, both positive and negative in order to provide readers with the context in which you have made your decisions. You can also include in your case reports descriptions of actual values for blood test results, detailed dosages for medications prescribed or other variables that should be taken into account with respect to the outcome of the situation.
Employ pictures/figures where relevant
A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words, especially for case reports where findings can be clearly and efficiently illustrated via images. Don’t make use of pictures without justification, however – do so only if they have a function. For example, macroscopic and microscopic images of a newly-identified causative microorganism are an essential whereas a picture of the model you have clearly explained elsewhere in the text may be overkill.
Formulate short and sharp titles
The title is the first selling point of your case report. Therefore, you would want it to be interesting and something that grasps the reader’s attention. Make sure you phrase it concisely, but still in an eye-catching way. Take a look at the examples shared by the speakers below.
An OK title: "Treatment of cerebral mucormycosis with drug therapy alone: a case report"
Versus a compelling title: "Successful outcome of cerebral mucormycosis with drug therapy alone"
Secure written consent from patient
Due to its nature of being a detailed description of an individual patient’s clinical presentation and therapy, a case report almost always contains information that could be traced back to the individual in question. Thus, a written, informed consent from the patient is a key requirement for the publication. Keep in mind that your patient is your partner in completing a case report, therefore make sure to discuss the report proactively with them including being explicit about any potential images that you are going to use, especially if they show or could identify the patient.
Don’t write your case report before doing your homework
If your case is not unique or interesting enough, there is a high chance that it will not be published. Even when your case is unique but is not well-documented or misses some crucial diagnostic elements, the same outcome might still ensue. This is not only a waste of your precious time but also a discouragement which might prevent you from producing more case reports in the future. To avoid this outcome, make sure to carry out careful research before writing your case reports. Make sure it meets all necessary characteristics and requirements before spending a lot of time and effort on the writing part.
Don’t publish a case report without the patient’s consent
As explained above, informed patient consent is mandatory for the publication of your case reports. Ignoring this requirement can result in a rejection for your work and worse, ruin your relationship and reputation with patients. However, there is an exception for publishing a case report without patient consent when the benefit of publication toward to society outweighs potential harm for individual. This happens when the case report contains an extremely important public health message but impossible to obtain informed consent despite all efforts as the patient has died, for example.
Don’t forget, moreover that clinical practitioners are not required to, and should not reveal personal patient information to a journal that is not relevant to the case.
Don’t include everything
“Less is more” goes the popular adage… It is not recommended to provide an extensive overview or discuss every single aspect of the patient’s disease in the introduction and conclusion. This will only serve to disengage readers and will distract them from the main ideas you want to communicate. If you want to give a focused introduction and discussion, make sure your case report mentions only the key messages and information related and relevant to these points.
To learn more about other insightful tips on how to write influential case reports and more importantly to get them published, you can watch the full webinar recording at the Researcher Academy(opens in new tab/window). If, after doing so you still have unresolved questions, why not post in the Researcher Academy Mendeley group(opens in new tab/window), where the team will endeavour to find expert answers for you.