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Writing a Case Study
What is a case study?
A Case study is:
- An in-depth research design that primarily uses a qualitative methodology but sometimes includes quantitative methodology.
- Used to examine an identifiable problem confirmed through research.
- Used to investigate an individual, group of people, organization, or event.
- Used to mostly answer "how" and "why" questions.
What are the different types of case studies?
Note: These are the primary case studies. As you continue to research and learn
about case studies you will begin to find a robust list of different types.
Who are your case study participants?
What is triangulation ?
Validity and credibility are an essential part of the case study. Therefore, the researcher should include triangulation to ensure trustworthiness while accurately reflecting what the researcher seeks to investigate.
How to write a Case Study?
When developing a case study, there are different ways you could present the information, but remember to include the five parts for your case study.
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- What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods
What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods
Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023.
A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.
A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .
Table of contents
When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.
A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.
Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.
You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.
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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:
- Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
- Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
- Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
- Open up new directions for future research
TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.
Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.
Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.
However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.
Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.
While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:
- Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
- Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
- Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions
To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.
There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.
Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.
The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.
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In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.
How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .
Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).
In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.
If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Normal distribution
- Degrees of freedom
- Null hypothesis
- Discourse analysis
- Control groups
- Mixed methods research
- Non-probability sampling
- Quantitative research
- Ecological validity
- Rosenthal effect
- Implicit bias
- Cognitive bias
- Selection bias
- Negativity bias
- Status quo bias
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Maben J, Griffiths P, Penfold C, et al. Evaluating a major innovation in hospital design: workforce implications and impact on patient and staff experiences of all single room hospital accommodation. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2015 Feb. (Health Services and Delivery Research, No. 3.3.)
Evaluating a major innovation in hospital design: workforce implications and impact on patient and staff experiences of all single room hospital accommodation.
Chapter 5 case study quantitative data findings.
This chapter provides the results of the analysis of quantitative data from three different sources:
- Staff activity: task time distribution. Observations of staff activities were undertaken in each study ward to understand the types of tasks undertaken by staff and the proportion of time spent on each. Staff were shadowed by a researcher who logged their activities.
- Staff travel distances. These were collected by staff wearing pedometers. These data were collected before and after the shadowing sessions.
- Staff experience surveys. Staff surveys on each ward were conducted before and after the move to the new hospital and these data provide a comparison of perceptions of the ward environment in the old and new wards.
The survey probed perceptions of many aspects of the ward environment before and after the move. As discussed in Chapter 3 , the trust, the designers and stakeholders held various expectations about the benefits of the 100% single room design. We examined whether or not these expectations (or hypotheses about the effect of the move) were fulfilled. Specifically, the new hospital was designed to increase patient comfort, prevent infections, reduce numbers of patient falls, reduce patient stress, increase patient-centred care and increase the time spent by nurses on direct care (see Appendix 16 ). Concerns were raised about the possible reduction in staff observing and monitoring patients, increased travel distances and patient isolation.
This chapter primarily addresses the following two research questions:
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a move to all single rooms for staff?
- Does the move to all single rooms affect staff experience and well-being and their ability to deliver effective and high-quality care?
- Staff activity: task time distribution results
Preliminary analysis showed that five activity categories accounted for 78% of observation data before the move and 83% of observation data after the move. This meant that numbers in the remaining categories were too low for analysis, so all subsequent analyses were confined to these five categories: direct care, indirect care, professional communication, medication tasks and ward-related activities. Proportion of time was derived by calculating the duration of each event from its start and end time, and then aggregating duration by activity for each observation session. The number of events for each activity was also counted ( Table 23 ).
Observations (events) per session before and after new build
Proportion of time spent in each type of activity was analysed using a general linear model with proportion of time as the dependent variable. The first model consisted of a single independent variable for before and after the new build and was used to ascertain the effect of the move to a new build, prior to adjusting for other variables. To this model were added ward (maternity, surgical, older people, AAU), staff group (midwife, RN, HCA) and day of the week. This second model was used to ascertain the effect of the move to the new build having adjusted for these variables.
Events were defined as a switch of activity (either to a new activity or to continue a previously interrupted activity) and were captured by a new entry in the PDA. The number of events (new or continuation of a previous activity) per hour was modelled in the same way except that a generalised linear model with a Poisson distribution and shift length in hours specified as offset (equivalent to modelling the hourly rate) was fitted to the data. An unadjusted analysis (before and after the new build only) and adjusted analysis (before and after the new build, ward, staff group and day of week) were performed.
Analysis of medication tasks was confined to RNs only. The fact that RMs work only on the postnatal ward means that it would not be possible to interpret whether any obtained results were due to the effect of the professional group or the ward. Therefore, staff group (i.e. midwives) was dropped from this model. On average the number of events (either new or continuations of previous activities) observed per session was higher before the move than after (177 vs. 153).
However, the move to the new build did not result in a significant change to the proportion of time spent on different activities ( Table 24 ). Although there was an increase in the proportion of direct care, indirect care, professional communication and medication tasks and a decrease in ward-related activities such as cleaning, bed making and stocking the utility room in adjusted analyses, none of these changes was statistically significant (see Table 24 ).
Mean proportion of time spent in each type of activity before and after move
Table 25 shows results for the analysis of the number of events per hour. The adjusted number of recorded events per hour decreased significantly for direct care ( p = 0.039) and professional communication ( p = 0.002), and increased significantly for medication tasks. A decrease in the number of events per hour for an activity, and no change in the proportion of time spent on that activity, suggests that there were fewer interruptions during these tasks and work was, therefore, less fragmented. This interpretation is supported by qualitative data showing that nurses could focus on direct care and communication tasks more easily in the single room environment. Staff had difficulty locating each other and also felt reluctant to interrupt a colleague providing direct care in a single room, and there were more frequent structured opportunities for professional communication within the small nursing teams.
Number of events per hour by type of activity before and after move
The number of events per hour increased significantly for medication tasks ( p = 0.001), showing increased fragmentation for this task. Again, this interpretation is supported by the qualitative data showing that when staff entered a patient room to administer medication they were likely to engage in other direct care activities; thus medication administration was not carried out in a single medication round, but integrated into patient care activities generally.
We also assessed the changes in patients’ contact time per patient-day to check if nurses spent more time with the patient instead of doing other activities. The analysis draws on day shift observation data (based on 118.5 hours of staff shadowing before the move and 254.5 hours after the move). The proportion of contact time was applied to the total NHPPD to provide an estimate of the patients’ contact time per patient-day (see Table 26 ).
Patients’ contact time per patient-day before and after move in the case study wards
After the move, the contact time per patient-days increased in all units, apart from surgery, where there was a decrease in direct care and an increase in indirect care activities, for example medication activities and professional communication, and essential ward/patient care activities.
These changes are the result of a combination of two factors: a change in the proportion of care (i.e. an increase/decrease in the time spent with the patient) and a change in NHPPD (i.e. an increase/decrease in the number of nurses working full-time during a day).
- Staff travel distances results
The data were analysed using a repeated measures general linear mixed model (GLMM) with steps per hour as the dependent variable and pre/post new build, ward (maternity, surgical, older people, AAU), observation session (repeated measure), staff group (midwife, RN, HCA) and day of the week as independent variables. The first GLMM analysis investigated the main effects of ward, pre/post move, staff group and day of the week. The second GLMM analysis investigated the interactions between pre/post move and ward, and between pre/post move and staff group. Because midwives were employed only on the maternity ward, there was potential confounding between the effects of ward and staff type. Initial analyses confirmed that removing maternity from the analyses improved the fit of the models. The first sensitivity analysis added a variable to the model that indicated whether or not a member of staff contributed to both the pre- and post-build samples. Only five staff contributed to both. The effect on the overall results was minor. A second sensitivity analysis fitted a model to first observation session data only, but allowed data to repeat across individual staff before and after the build. We report the results below, including where sensitivity analyses identified differences.
The data set contains information on 140 sessions collected on 53 staff (49%) prior to and 56 staff (51%) after the new build. A number of staff contributed more than one observation session: 85 provided one session, 18 provided two sessions, five provided three sessions and one provided four sessions. There were 73 sessions (52%) collected prior to the new build and 67 sessions (48%) after the new build. The average numbers of sessions per member of staff were 1.38 and 1.20, respectively. A small number of staff ( n = 5, 4%) were observed at both times (one RN and four HCAs). Table 27 shows descriptive data for ward and staff group.
Steps per hour before and after new build
The unadjusted means (see Table 27 ) show an increase in the number of steps per hour for all wards and staff groups. Staff working on the older people’s ward (from 664 to 845) and RNs (from 639 to 827) have seen the biggest increases.
Table 28 shows results for the main effects of ward, pre/post move, staff group and day of the week. The number of steps per hour increased significantly from a mean of 715 before the move to a mean of 839 [ F (1,83) = 10.36; p = 0.002] after the move. HCAs took significantly more steps per hour than nurses [ F (1,83) = 8.01; p = 0.006]. There were also significant differences between days of the week [ F (4,21) = 3.40; p = 0.027]. There was no significant difference between wards in the distances travelled ( Table 29 ).
F -tests on main effects
Mean steps per hour by wards, pre-/post move, staff group and day of the week
Table 30 shows results for the interactions between pre/post move and ward, and between pre/post move and staff group. Neither of the two interactions was statistically significant.
F -tests on interaction effects
The estimated marginal means ( Table 31 ) showed that there was an increase from pre to post build across all wards. Although the size of this increase did not differ significantly between wards, the increases in the surgical and older people’s wards were larger than for the AAU. RNs experienced a larger increase (from 624 to 811) in the number of steps per hour (from 3.74 to 4.86 miles) than HCAs (from 828 to 862 steps; from 4.96 to 5.17 miles).
Mean steps per hour for the interactions
The estimated marginal means from the second sensitivity analysis suggested a decrease in the number of steps per hour for the AAU from 901 to 836 and for HCAs from 876 to 855, rather than an increase as shown in Table 31 . The change in means for the remaining two wards and for RNs, from pre to post build, were in the same direction, and of the same order of magnitude (see Table 31 ).
- Staff experience survey
Because of staff leave, shift patterns and staff turnover during the course of the study, it was not possible to use a completely within-subjects design, in which the pre- and post-move surveys were completed by the same people. Despite this, 19 participants did complete surveys at both times, which meant a mixed within- and between-subjects design. One potential problem with this is that the subgroup who completed both surveys could have been sensitised to the research questions and, therefore, could have been more likely to report differences after the move than those who completed only one survey; that would bias our results. We addressed this by treating the design as a between-subjects design and checking for bias by comparing the results of our analyses for the whole group with separate within-subjects analyses on the subgroup who completed both surveys. The results were identical except for a small difference: perceptions of the effect of the accommodation on the delivery of care approached significance (0.099) in the within-subjects analysis whereas for the whole group this effect was significant (0.011). This can be attributed to lack of power in the subsample of 19. On this basis we proceeded with the analysis by treating the ‘before’ and ‘after’ samples as independent groups.
There were 152 items in the staff survey. Our approach to analysis was multifaceted. First, we explored the potential for grouping questions into subscales that would summarise a topic area. We thematically analysed the questions to determine those that were likely to be measuring attitudes to related aspects of the ward design, and then tested these subscales using statistical reliability analysis. Where reliability was not adequate we revised the items in the subscales until we had identified coherent subscales. These were then analysed using independent sample t -tests to determine if post-move responses were significantly different from the pre-move scores for each subscale. Similar analyses were undertaken for the teamwork and safety climate scales. Qualitative open-ended questions were analysed thematically using a content analytic approach. The well-being and stress items were compared before and after the move using the Pearson chi-squared test and Fisher’s exact test when expected frequencies were less than 5.
One of the aims of the study was to investigate if there were differences between the case study wards in their perceptions of the positives and negatives of the new single room accommodation. However, the relatively small number of staff in each of the case study wards meant that it was not possible to explore this question statistically. We therefore used correspondence analysis and perceptual mapping to examine the interaction between ward attributes and case study wards. Correspondence analysis is an exploratory mapping tool that allows visualisation of relationships in the data that would be difficult to identify if presented in a table. 114 It is related to other techniques such as factor analysis and multidimensional scaling. It does not rely on significance testing and is best viewed as an exploratory technique that provides insights into the similarities and differences between two variables. 115 Correspondence analysis does not address questions of whether or not there were differences in ratings between the attributes (e.g. whether or not privacy for patients was rated more highly than staff teamwork). Instead, it focuses on the differences between case study wards and the interaction between ratings and wards. It allows an examination of to what extent which wards are associated with particular ratings. In this way it allows us to qualitatively explore the quantitative data.
Ward environment survey subscales
Ten reliable subscales were formed. Table 32 shows the subscales and example items from each.
Description of subscales
Appendix 19 contains a complete list of all items used for each subscale.
Table 33 summarises the statistical analysis of the subscales showing means, Cronbach’s alpha and the number of items for each subscale before and after the move. According to accepted criteria, 115 alpha above 0.60 is acceptable for exploratory analyses, above 0.70 is acceptable for confirmatory purposes and above 0.80 is good for confirmatory purposes. Obtained coefficients were generally good, ranging mostly between 0.67 and 0.92. The lowest alpha, of 0.53, was obtained for the family/visitors subscale after the move, suggesting that this subscale is not internally consistent. However, the pre-move alpha was good (0.70), so it was decided to retain this subscale for exploratory purposes.
Mean subscale scores and reliability analysis before and after the move
Table 34 shows the results of independent sample t -tests comparing subscale scores before and after the move. Staff perceived significant improvements in the efficiency of the physical environment, the patient amenity, the effect of the environment on infection control, patient privacy, and family and visitors. The largest increases were found for perceptions of infection control and patient privacy. Perceptions of the effect of the ward environment on teamwork and care delivery were significantly more negative after the move. There were no significant differences in staff perceptions of staff facilities, patient safety and staff safety.
Results of t -tests comparing perceptions of the ward environment before and after the move
Although all subscales showed moderate to very good reliability, changes were not uniform for all items in every subscale; there were some exceptions to the overall trend. Overall ratings for the subscale ‘efficiency of physical environment’ increased, but ratings for the item ‘ward design/layout minimises walking distances for staff’ decreased. These perceptions were confirmed by our findings from the analysis of travel distances showing that staff took significantly more steps after than before the move. Some aspects of the design increased the amenity of the ward for staff but others did not. For example, staff toilet facilities, locker facilities and space at staff bases were rated more highly but ratings for social interaction and natural light decreased. These positive and negative aspects meant there was no significant difference in staff amenity before and after the move. The new ward was rated as much more positive for patients but there were reduced scores for three items after the move: social contact between patients, ability of patients to see staff and way finding. All aspects of teamwork and training were rated less positively, except for the item ‘discussing patient care with colleagues’, which increased. This finding is supported by our analysis of observation data showing that professional communication activities were less fragmented.
Although there were no significant differences in the effect of the ward layout on perceptions of patient safety, examination of the items showed that ratings for two items increased (‘minimising risk to patients of physical/verbal abuse from other patients/visitors’ and ‘minimising the risk of medication errors’) while ratings for two items decreased (‘responding to patient calls for assistance’ and ‘minimising the risk of falls/injury to patients’). This suggests that, although staff thought some risks to safety were reduced, they perceived an increased risk of falls and delays in responding to calls for assistance. Staff perceptions of a rise in risk of falls are detailed in Chapter 6 . Staff also reported being unable to hear calls for assistance when in a single room with a patient.
There were five items that did not fit into any of the subscales. These items were analysed singly using Fisher’s exact test and the results are shown in Table 35 . There was a significant relationship between the move and ratings for the number and location of hand basins, ease of keeping patient areas clean and quiet, and the overall comfort of patients, which all increased after the move. There was no relationship between the move and judgements of whether or not the location of the dirty utility room (where bedpans are stored and disposed of) reduces cross-contamination.
Results of single-item analyses
The distribution of responses for the four significant items showed that significantly more staff rated these aspects of single room accommodation as more positive after the move than before ( Tables 36 – 39 ).
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Number and location of CHWBs supports good hand hygiene’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Easy to keep patient care areas clean’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Overall comfort of patients’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Easy to keep patient care areas quiet’
Expectations before the move and reality after the move
Before the move, staff were asked to rate on a five-point scale whether they thought single rooms would be better or worse for different aspects of clinical work (e.g. minimising the risk of patient falls, maintaining patient confidentiality, knowing when other staff might need help). After the move they again rated whether single rooms were better or worse for clinical work, thus providing a measure of whether or not their expectations about single rooms were met in reality. The questions were a subset of 23 questions from the first part of the survey and were analysed using Fisher’s exact test.
Results ( Table 40 ) showed that staff perceptions of whether or not single rooms were better than multibedded wards changed after the move for five items. Staff perceptions of whether or not single rooms were better for responding to calls for assistance, knowing when other staff might need help and minimising walking distances were rated as worse or much worse by significantly more staff after than before the move. Staff rated single rooms as positive for patient sleep and rest and for interactions between patients and visitors after the move.
Relationship between expectations before the move and reality after the move
Tables 41 – 45 show the distribution of significant responses.
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Responding to patient calls for assistance’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Minimising staff walking distances’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Patient sleep and rest’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Knowing when other staff might need a helping hand’
Distribution of responses for the item ‘Patient interaction with visitors’
Teamwork and safety climate survey
To take into account our changes to the survey, we combined the four items about the quality of communication with doctors, nurses, nursing assistants and AHPs with the items in the information handover subscale to form a new subscale of seven items. Although this is different from the scales reported by Hutchinson et al. , 98 reliability analysis confirmed the original factor structure of the survey. There were two teamwork subscales and three safety climate subscales with good to high reliability ( Table 46 ). See Appendix 20 for a list of the items contained in each subscale.
Mean scores for all subscales decreased following the move. Independent sample t -tests showed that ratings for information handover and communication decreased significantly following the move [ t = 3.23, degrees of freedom (df) = 108, p = 0.002], indicating that information exchange and sharing within teams was perceived to be worse after the move. There were no other significant differences.
Correspondence analysis transforms cross-tabulated data into a biplot showing distances between variables. In this study, case study ward was a column variable and mean questionnaire subscale score was a row variable (see Table 33 ). As appropriate when analysing mean scores, Euclidean distance was used and standardisation by removing row means was used. 114 , 116 This means that differences between the subscale means were not represented in the perceptual map, as we were not interested in whether or not, for example, infection control was rated more highly than privacy. Differences between wards, contained in the columns, were of interest and are represented in the perceptual map. Separate analyses were conducted for before and after the move and for the ward attributes and teamwork/safety climate survey.
Figure 11 shows perceptual maps of the association between ward attributes and wards before and after the move. The pre-move map shows that the points on the map were dispersed, indicating that the ratings were not strongly associated with particular wards. There was one exception in that ratings for the efficiency of the physical environment, privacy and infection control were higher for the older people’s ward than for the other wards. The post-move map shows that the highest ratings for the efficiency of the physical environment, the delivery of care, the staff facilities and teamwork were obtained in the older people’s and surgical wards, indicated by proximity on the map. Ratings for patient amenity, infection control, privacy and family/visitors were highest for the surgical ward. High ratings for patient safety were obtained in maternity and the surgical ward. Ratings for staff safety were similar in the older people’s, surgical and maternity wards. The acute assessment ward was not associated with any particular ward attributes, as was the case before the move.
Perceptual maps of (a) pre- and (b) post-move ward attributes by ward.
Figure 12 shows perceptual maps before and after the move of the association between teamwork/safety climate ratings and wards. The teamwork/safety climate survey consisted of two teamwork subscales – team input into decisions, and information handover and communication – and three safety climate subscales – attitudes to safety within own team, overall confidence in safety of organisation and perceptions of management attitudes to safety. The pre-move map shows that ratings of input into decisions, information and handover, and overall confidence in safety of the organisation were highest for the acute assessment ward. Ratings of safety attitudes within the team and management attitudes to safety were highest for the surgical ward. After the move, the surgical ward had the highest ratings for safety attitudes within the team, overall attitudes to safety and management; ratings for team input into decisions and information handover and communication were highest for the older people’s ward. Ratings for all safety climate subscales decreased in the acute assessment ward, which is indicated on the perceptual map by its location in a quadrant by itself. Maternity scores did not show a consistent pattern.
Perceptual map of (a) pre- and (b) post-move ratings of teamwork/safety climate by ward. Att., attitude; mgt., management.
These maps reveal some differences between wards in perceptions of the ward environment and show that perceptions were different before and after the move.
Staff ward preferences
Nursing staff were asked to indicate whether they would prefer single rooms, multibedded accommodation or a combination. There was a range of views ( Figure 13 ). In each phase, fewer than 18% of staff indicated a preference for 100% single rooms. The most common preference in each phase was a combination of 50% of beds in single rooms and 50% in bays (see Figure 13 ). In the pre-move survey, more staff reported a preference for more beds in bays ( n = 20) than in the post-move phase ( n = 12).
Nurse preferences for single room or multibedded accommodation.
Staff stress and well-being
There were five categorical questions about staff well-being that investigated whether or not they had experienced injuries and harassment in the previous 12 months ( Table 47 ). There were three items about job stress that asked participants to rate their stress on a five-point Likert scale ( Table 48 ) . Results showed no differences in staff well-being and stress before and after the move.
Relationship between move and staff well-being
Relationship between move and staff stress
Staff were asked 10 questions about their satisfaction with their own performance of various tasks during their last shift, and one question about their overall job satisfaction. Results ( Table 49 ) showed no significant effect for any of the job satisfaction items.
Relationship between job satisfaction and move
Qualitative survey data
Four open-ended questions were used to gain qualitative data about staff attitudes. The questions were:
- What two things do you think would most improve the current ward environment for staff?
- What two things do you think would most improve the current ward environment for patients?
- What two things are you most looking forward to in relation to the move to 100% single rooms in the new hospital?
- What two things are you most concerned about in relation to the move to 100% single rooms in the new hospital?
- What two things do you like the most about single room wards in the new hospital?
- What two things do you dislike most about single room wards in the new hospital?
In the following sections we present the results of the thematic analysis with frequency data (almost equal numbers of staff responded before and after the move, n = 55 and n = 54 respectively) and examples from participants’ written responses where appropriate. Table 50 shows that staff identified a number of things that would improve the ward accommodation for patients. The need for more space, improved patient facilities, privacy, and rest and sleep were largely met, since there were fewer people identifying these as needs after the move. However, the need for improved patient–staff ratios and a day room to provide patient social interaction were still reported after the move.
What would improve the current ward environment for patients ? Response frequencies
The need that staff perceived before the move for space around patient beds and staffing levels had decreased after the move ( Table 51 ). However, ventilation/heating/lighting, access to equipment and supplies and facilities for staff, including staff bases, were identified as needing improvement after move. In addition there was a need for improvements in monitoring patients, keeping track of colleagues, reducing isolation and reducing walking distances. These have all been identified by other parts of our results (see Chapter 6 ).
What would improve the current ward environment for staff ? Response frequencies
Staff were asked about the features of the ward they were most looking forward to in the pre-move phase, and most liked in the post-move phase ( Table 52 ). Results showed that staff most liked the increased patient privacy, patient sleep and rest, increased space, working in a modern environment and improved patient bathroom facilities.
What are you most looking forward to/do you most like about 100% single room accommodation? Response frequencies
Table 53 shows that staff were most concerned about being able to monitor patients, patient isolation and the risk of falls. Being unable to find staff and increased walking distances also emerged as features staff disliked about single rooms.
What are you most concerned about/do you most dislike about 100% single room accommodation? Response frequencies
- Most staff would prefer a mix of single rooms and multibedded rooms on wards.
- Staff activity events observed per session were higher after the move and direct care and professional communication events per hour decreased significantly, suggesting fewer interruptions and less fragmented care.
- A significant increase in medication tasks among recorded events suggests medication administration was integrated into patient care activities and was not undertaken as a medication ‘round’.
- Travel distances increased for all staff, with highest increases for staff in the older people’s ward and surgical wards and for RNs/RMs.
- efficiency in carrying out tasks
- patient amenity, including comfort, space, sleep, light and ventilation
- infection control
- patient privacy
- patient interaction with family/visitors and their involvement in care.
- In open comments, staff most liked the increased patient privacy, working in a modern environment, improved patient sleep and rest, and space around the bedside.
- delivery of care, including factors such as spending time with patients, communication with patients, monitoring patients and remaining close to patients, responding to calls for assistance, minimising the risks to staff, minimising walking distances and staff spending time with patients
- teamwork, including being able to locate staff, obtain assistance from colleagues, informal learning, keeping team members updated, discussing care with colleagues and knowing when other staff might need help.
- In addition, in open comments staff were most concerned about patient isolation, the risk of falls and staff isolation.
- There were no perceived differences in staff amenity and patient and staff safety.
- Ratings for information handover and communication decreased significantly following the move. This suggests that information exchange and sharing within teams – and between professions – was perceived to be worse after the move.
- Different wards valued different aspects of the ward environment.
- Ratings for staff toilet facilities, locker facilities and space at staff bases were rated more highly but ratings for social interaction and natural light decreased.
- No differences were found in staff job satisfaction, well-being or stress before and after the move.
- The need for improved patient–staff ratios and a day room to provide patient social interaction was still reported after the move.
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The case study approach
- Sarah Crowe 1 ,
- Kathrin Cresswell 2 ,
- Ann Robertson 2 ,
- Guro Huby 3 ,
- Anthony Avery 1 &
- Aziz Sheikh 2
BMC Medical Research Methodology volume 11 , Article number: 100 ( 2011 ) Cite this article
The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in their real-life settings. The value of the case study approach is well recognised in the fields of business, law and policy, but somewhat less so in health services research. Based on our experiences of conducting several health-related case studies, we reflect on the different types of case study design, the specific research questions this approach can help answer, the data sources that tend to be used, and the particular advantages and disadvantages of employing this methodological approach. The paper concludes with key pointers to aid those designing and appraising proposals for conducting case study research, and a checklist to help readers assess the quality of case study reports.
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The case study approach is particularly useful to employ when there is a need to obtain an in-depth appreciation of an issue, event or phenomenon of interest, in its natural real-life context. Our aim in writing this piece is to provide insights into when to consider employing this approach and an overview of key methodological considerations in relation to the design, planning, analysis, interpretation and reporting of case studies.
The illustrative 'grand round', 'case report' and 'case series' have a long tradition in clinical practice and research. Presenting detailed critiques, typically of one or more patients, aims to provide insights into aspects of the clinical case and, in doing so, illustrate broader lessons that may be learnt. In research, the conceptually-related case study approach can be used, for example, to describe in detail a patient's episode of care, explore professional attitudes to and experiences of a new policy initiative or service development or more generally to 'investigate contemporary phenomena within its real-life context' [ 1 ]. Based on our experiences of conducting a range of case studies, we reflect on when to consider using this approach, discuss the key steps involved and illustrate, with examples, some of the practical challenges of attaining an in-depth understanding of a 'case' as an integrated whole. In keeping with previously published work, we acknowledge the importance of theory to underpin the design, selection, conduct and interpretation of case studies[ 2 ]. In so doing, we make passing reference to the different epistemological approaches used in case study research by key theoreticians and methodologists in this field of enquiry.
This paper is structured around the following main questions: What is a case study? What are case studies used for? How are case studies conducted? What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided? We draw in particular on four of our own recently published examples of case studies (see Tables 1 , 2 , 3 and 4 ) and those of others to illustrate our discussion[ 3 – 7 ].
What is a case study?
A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table 5 ), the central tenet being the need to explore an event or phenomenon in depth and in its natural context. It is for this reason sometimes referred to as a "naturalistic" design; this is in contrast to an "experimental" design (such as a randomised controlled trial) in which the investigator seeks to exert control over and manipulate the variable(s) of interest.
Stake's work has been particularly influential in defining the case study approach to scientific enquiry. He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic , instrumental and collective [ 8 ]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others. In contrast, the instrumental case study uses a particular case (some of which may be better than others) to gain a broader appreciation of an issue or phenomenon. The collective case study involves studying multiple cases simultaneously or sequentially in an attempt to generate a still broader appreciation of a particular issue.
These are however not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. In the first of our examples (Table 1 ), we undertook an intrinsic case study to investigate the issue of recruitment of minority ethnic people into the specific context of asthma research studies, but it developed into a instrumental case study through seeking to understand the issue of recruitment of these marginalised populations more generally, generating a number of the findings that are potentially transferable to other disease contexts[ 3 ]. In contrast, the other three examples (see Tables 2 , 3 and 4 ) employed collective case study designs to study the introduction of workforce reconfiguration in primary care, the implementation of electronic health records into hospitals, and to understand the ways in which healthcare students learn about patient safety considerations[ 4 – 6 ]. Although our study focusing on the introduction of General Practitioners with Specialist Interests (Table 2 ) was explicitly collective in design (four contrasting primary care organisations were studied), is was also instrumental in that this particular professional group was studied as an exemplar of the more general phenomenon of workforce redesign[ 4 ].
What are case studies used for?
According to Yin, case studies can be used to explain, describe or explore events or phenomena in the everyday contexts in which they occur[ 1 ]. These can, for example, help to understand and explain causal links and pathways resulting from a new policy initiative or service development (see Tables 2 and 3 , for example)[ 1 ]. In contrast to experimental designs, which seek to test a specific hypothesis through deliberately manipulating the environment (like, for example, in a randomised controlled trial giving a new drug to randomly selected individuals and then comparing outcomes with controls),[ 9 ] the case study approach lends itself well to capturing information on more explanatory ' how ', 'what' and ' why ' questions, such as ' how is the intervention being implemented and received on the ground?'. The case study approach can offer additional insights into what gaps exist in its delivery or why one implementation strategy might be chosen over another. This in turn can help develop or refine theory, as shown in our study of the teaching of patient safety in undergraduate curricula (Table 4 )[ 6 , 10 ]. Key questions to consider when selecting the most appropriate study design are whether it is desirable or indeed possible to undertake a formal experimental investigation in which individuals and/or organisations are allocated to an intervention or control arm? Or whether the wish is to obtain a more naturalistic understanding of an issue? The former is ideally studied using a controlled experimental design, whereas the latter is more appropriately studied using a case study design.
Case studies may be approached in different ways depending on the epistemological standpoint of the researcher, that is, whether they take a critical (questioning one's own and others' assumptions), interpretivist (trying to understand individual and shared social meanings) or positivist approach (orientating towards the criteria of natural sciences, such as focusing on generalisability considerations) (Table 6 ). Whilst such a schema can be conceptually helpful, it may be appropriate to draw on more than one approach in any case study, particularly in the context of conducting health services research. Doolin has, for example, noted that in the context of undertaking interpretative case studies, researchers can usefully draw on a critical, reflective perspective which seeks to take into account the wider social and political environment that has shaped the case[ 11 ].
How are case studies conducted?
Here, we focus on the main stages of research activity when planning and undertaking a case study; the crucial stages are: defining the case; selecting the case(s); collecting and analysing the data; interpreting data; and reporting the findings.
Defining the case
Carefully formulated research question(s), informed by the existing literature and a prior appreciation of the theoretical issues and setting(s), are all important in appropriately and succinctly defining the case[ 8 , 12 ]. Crucially, each case should have a pre-defined boundary which clarifies the nature and time period covered by the case study (i.e. its scope, beginning and end), the relevant social group, organisation or geographical area of interest to the investigator, the types of evidence to be collected, and the priorities for data collection and analysis (see Table 7 )[ 1 ]. A theory driven approach to defining the case may help generate knowledge that is potentially transferable to a range of clinical contexts and behaviours; using theory is also likely to result in a more informed appreciation of, for example, how and why interventions have succeeded or failed[ 13 ].
For example, in our evaluation of the introduction of electronic health records in English hospitals (Table 3 ), we defined our cases as the NHS Trusts that were receiving the new technology[ 5 ]. Our focus was on how the technology was being implemented. However, if the primary research interest had been on the social and organisational dimensions of implementation, we might have defined our case differently as a grouping of healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors and/or nurses). The precise beginning and end of the case may however prove difficult to define. Pursuing this same example, when does the process of implementation and adoption of an electronic health record system really begin or end? Such judgements will inevitably be influenced by a range of factors, including the research question, theory of interest, the scope and richness of the gathered data and the resources available to the research team.
Selecting the case(s)
The decision on how to select the case(s) to study is a very important one that merits some reflection. In an intrinsic case study, the case is selected on its own merits[ 8 ]. The case is selected not because it is representative of other cases, but because of its uniqueness, which is of genuine interest to the researchers. This was, for example, the case in our study of the recruitment of minority ethnic participants into asthma research (Table 1 ) as our earlier work had demonstrated the marginalisation of minority ethnic people with asthma, despite evidence of disproportionate asthma morbidity[ 14 , 15 ]. In another example of an intrinsic case study, Hellstrom et al.[ 16 ] studied an elderly married couple living with dementia to explore how dementia had impacted on their understanding of home, their everyday life and their relationships.
For an instrumental case study, selecting a "typical" case can work well[ 8 ]. In contrast to the intrinsic case study, the particular case which is chosen is of less importance than selecting a case that allows the researcher to investigate an issue or phenomenon. For example, in order to gain an understanding of doctors' responses to health policy initiatives, Som undertook an instrumental case study interviewing clinicians who had a range of responsibilities for clinical governance in one NHS acute hospital trust[ 17 ]. Sampling a "deviant" or "atypical" case may however prove even more informative, potentially enabling the researcher to identify causal processes, generate hypotheses and develop theory.
In collective or multiple case studies, a number of cases are carefully selected. This offers the advantage of allowing comparisons to be made across several cases and/or replication. Choosing a "typical" case may enable the findings to be generalised to theory (i.e. analytical generalisation) or to test theory by replicating the findings in a second or even a third case (i.e. replication logic)[ 1 ]. Yin suggests two or three literal replications (i.e. predicting similar results) if the theory is straightforward and five or more if the theory is more subtle. However, critics might argue that selecting 'cases' in this way is insufficiently reflexive and ill-suited to the complexities of contemporary healthcare organisations.
The selected case study site(s) should allow the research team access to the group of individuals, the organisation, the processes or whatever else constitutes the chosen unit of analysis for the study. Access is therefore a central consideration; the researcher needs to come to know the case study site(s) well and to work cooperatively with them. Selected cases need to be not only interesting but also hospitable to the inquiry [ 8 ] if they are to be informative and answer the research question(s). Case study sites may also be pre-selected for the researcher, with decisions being influenced by key stakeholders. For example, our selection of case study sites in the evaluation of the implementation and adoption of electronic health record systems (see Table 3 ) was heavily influenced by NHS Connecting for Health, the government agency that was responsible for overseeing the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT)[ 5 ]. This prominent stakeholder had already selected the NHS sites (through a competitive bidding process) to be early adopters of the electronic health record systems and had negotiated contracts that detailed the deployment timelines.
It is also important to consider in advance the likely burden and risks associated with participation for those who (or the site(s) which) comprise the case study. Of particular importance is the obligation for the researcher to think through the ethical implications of the study (e.g. the risk of inadvertently breaching anonymity or confidentiality) and to ensure that potential participants/participating sites are provided with sufficient information to make an informed choice about joining the study. The outcome of providing this information might be that the emotive burden associated with participation, or the organisational disruption associated with supporting the fieldwork, is considered so high that the individuals or sites decide against participation.
In our example of evaluating implementations of electronic health record systems, given the restricted number of early adopter sites available to us, we sought purposively to select a diverse range of implementation cases among those that were available[ 5 ]. We chose a mixture of teaching, non-teaching and Foundation Trust hospitals, and examples of each of the three electronic health record systems procured centrally by the NPfIT. At one recruited site, it quickly became apparent that access was problematic because of competing demands on that organisation. Recognising the importance of full access and co-operative working for generating rich data, the research team decided not to pursue work at that site and instead to focus on other recruited sites.
Collecting the data
In order to develop a thorough understanding of the case, the case study approach usually involves the collection of multiple sources of evidence, using a range of quantitative (e.g. questionnaires, audits and analysis of routinely collected healthcare data) and more commonly qualitative techniques (e.g. interviews, focus groups and observations). The use of multiple sources of data (data triangulation) has been advocated as a way of increasing the internal validity of a study (i.e. the extent to which the method is appropriate to answer the research question)[ 8 , 18 – 21 ]. An underlying assumption is that data collected in different ways should lead to similar conclusions, and approaching the same issue from different angles can help develop a holistic picture of the phenomenon (Table 2 )[ 4 ].
Brazier and colleagues used a mixed-methods case study approach to investigate the impact of a cancer care programme[ 22 ]. Here, quantitative measures were collected with questionnaires before, and five months after, the start of the intervention which did not yield any statistically significant results. Qualitative interviews with patients however helped provide an insight into potentially beneficial process-related aspects of the programme, such as greater, perceived patient involvement in care. The authors reported how this case study approach provided a number of contextual factors likely to influence the effectiveness of the intervention and which were not likely to have been obtained from quantitative methods alone.
In collective or multiple case studies, data collection needs to be flexible enough to allow a detailed description of each individual case to be developed (e.g. the nature of different cancer care programmes), before considering the emerging similarities and differences in cross-case comparisons (e.g. to explore why one programme is more effective than another). It is important that data sources from different cases are, where possible, broadly comparable for this purpose even though they may vary in nature and depth.
Analysing, interpreting and reporting case studies
Making sense and offering a coherent interpretation of the typically disparate sources of data (whether qualitative alone or together with quantitative) is far from straightforward. Repeated reviewing and sorting of the voluminous and detail-rich data are integral to the process of analysis. In collective case studies, it is helpful to analyse data relating to the individual component cases first, before making comparisons across cases. Attention needs to be paid to variations within each case and, where relevant, the relationship between different causes, effects and outcomes[ 23 ]. Data will need to be organised and coded to allow the key issues, both derived from the literature and emerging from the dataset, to be easily retrieved at a later stage. An initial coding frame can help capture these issues and can be applied systematically to the whole dataset with the aid of a qualitative data analysis software package.
The Framework approach is a practical approach, comprising of five stages (familiarisation; identifying a thematic framework; indexing; charting; mapping and interpretation) , to managing and analysing large datasets particularly if time is limited, as was the case in our study of recruitment of South Asians into asthma research (Table 1 )[ 3 , 24 ]. Theoretical frameworks may also play an important role in integrating different sources of data and examining emerging themes. For example, we drew on a socio-technical framework to help explain the connections between different elements - technology; people; and the organisational settings within which they worked - in our study of the introduction of electronic health record systems (Table 3 )[ 5 ]. Our study of patient safety in undergraduate curricula drew on an evaluation-based approach to design and analysis, which emphasised the importance of the academic, organisational and practice contexts through which students learn (Table 4 )[ 6 ].
Case study findings can have implications both for theory development and theory testing. They may establish, strengthen or weaken historical explanations of a case and, in certain circumstances, allow theoretical (as opposed to statistical) generalisation beyond the particular cases studied[ 12 ]. These theoretical lenses should not, however, constitute a strait-jacket and the cases should not be "forced to fit" the particular theoretical framework that is being employed.
When reporting findings, it is important to provide the reader with enough contextual information to understand the processes that were followed and how the conclusions were reached. In a collective case study, researchers may choose to present the findings from individual cases separately before amalgamating across cases. Care must be taken to ensure the anonymity of both case sites and individual participants (if agreed in advance) by allocating appropriate codes or withholding descriptors. In the example given in Table 3 , we decided against providing detailed information on the NHS sites and individual participants in order to avoid the risk of inadvertent disclosure of identities[ 5 , 25 ].
What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided?
The case study approach is, as with all research, not without its limitations. When investigating the formal and informal ways undergraduate students learn about patient safety (Table 4 ), for example, we rapidly accumulated a large quantity of data. The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted on the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources. This highlights a more general point of the importance of avoiding the temptation to collect as much data as possible; adequate time also needs to be set aside for data analysis and interpretation of what are often highly complex datasets.
Case study research has sometimes been criticised for lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis for generalisation (i.e. producing findings that may be transferable to other settings)[ 1 ]. There are several ways to address these concerns, including: the use of theoretical sampling (i.e. drawing on a particular conceptual framework); respondent validation (i.e. participants checking emerging findings and the researcher's interpretation, and providing an opinion as to whether they feel these are accurate); and transparency throughout the research process (see Table 8 )[ 8 , 18 – 21 , 23 , 26 ]. Transparency can be achieved by describing in detail the steps involved in case selection, data collection, the reasons for the particular methods chosen, and the researcher's background and level of involvement (i.e. being explicit about how the researcher has influenced data collection and interpretation). Seeking potential, alternative explanations, and being explicit about how interpretations and conclusions were reached, help readers to judge the trustworthiness of the case study report. Stake provides a critique checklist for a case study report (Table 9 )[ 8 ].
The case study approach allows, amongst other things, critical events, interventions, policy developments and programme-based service reforms to be studied in detail in a real-life context. It should therefore be considered when an experimental design is either inappropriate to answer the research questions posed or impossible to undertake. Considering the frequency with which implementations of innovations are now taking place in healthcare settings and how well the case study approach lends itself to in-depth, complex health service research, we believe this approach should be more widely considered by researchers. Though inherently challenging, the research case study can, if carefully conceptualised and thoughtfully undertaken and reported, yield powerful insights into many important aspects of health and healthcare delivery.
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The pre-publication history for this paper can be accessed here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/11/100/prepub
We are grateful to the participants and colleagues who contributed to the individual case studies that we have drawn on. This work received no direct funding, but it has been informed by projects funded by Asthma UK, the NHS Service Delivery Organisation, NHS Connecting for Health Evaluation Programme, and Patient Safety Research Portfolio. We would also like to thank the expert reviewers for their insightful and constructive feedback. Our thanks are also due to Dr. Allison Worth who commented on an earlier draft of this manuscript.
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Division of Primary Care, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
Sarah Crowe & Anthony Avery
Centre for Population Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
Kathrin Cresswell, Ann Robertson & Aziz Sheikh
School of Health in Social Science, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
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Correspondence to Sarah Crowe .
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
AS conceived this article. SC, KC and AR wrote this paper with GH, AA and AS all commenting on various drafts. SC and AS are guarantors.
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Crowe, S., Cresswell, K., Robertson, A. et al. The case study approach. BMC Med Res Methodol 11 , 100 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100
Received : 29 November 2010
Accepted : 27 June 2011
Published : 27 June 2011
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100
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