Updated: Jun 18
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of how to write a medical case report? Trust me, I've been there too. But don't worry, all it takes is starting with one case report, and before you know it, you could have over 90 publications in numerous medical journals, just like me! Remember, when you share your cases with the world, you contribute to a repository of knowledge that fellow practitioners can use to improve people's lives. So let's dive into the steps you should follow to write a helpful case report and make the world a better place.
Table of Contents
Know Which Medical Cases Are Worth Reporting and Worth Your Time
During your residency, you will come across many cases that seem unique at first. However, as you progress through your training, you will realize that not all cases are as rare as they initially appear. So, how do you identify a case worth reporting? Here's a tip: if you can't find much about it on Google Scholar or PubMed, and if it's not well-documented in your part of the country, it might be worth exploring. Remember that even seemingly simple cases can be worth reporting if the presentation is rare and reported sparsely in the literature.
Have an Ironclad Case History
Once you've identified the case you want to report, the next step is to gather a detailed case history. Consult your seniors and professors during the early years of your residency. They can provide valuable insights and help you identify positive and negative aspects, as well as good differential diagnoses. Think like Sherlock, but document like Louis Litt —consider the information you have, the histopathology, and the reports. Gather all the relevant details for a strong case history.
Take Good Quality Evidence
To ensure there is no room for ambiguity in your case report, take good quality evidence. When capturing images, make sure they are well-lit, with an opaque or muted background. Ideal colors for backgrounds are blue or green, and solid colors work best. Try to take images in anatomical positions, going back to your first-year anatomy knowledge. The same applies to digital images of X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and histopathology. Ensure digital and microscopy images are free of artifacts. Also, keep a proper record of the prescribed medication and take images during follow-up.
Review of Literature
What we discussed so far was a breeze compared to what you will be up against next. So, get ready for some heavy lifting.
The most crucial part of writing a case report is reviewing the existing literature on the topic. Consult textbooks and credible sources like PubMed and Cochrane Reviews. Organize your review chronologically to gain a comprehensive understanding of what has already been published. Identify the key points, find any missing aspects, and determine what new insights your report can contribute to the existing literature. Extensive research of around 8-10 hours will provide a solid foundation for your manuscript.
Drafting a Medical Case Report Manuscript
A typical case report is divided into five sections:
Write a concise summary (100-150 words) that highlights the significance of the condition, includes relevant literature, and states the purpose of your case report.
Introduction and Background
Address the importance of the condition and refer to relevant literature. Clearly express the goal of your case report and how it adds to existing knowledge (around 100-150 words).
Provide an in-depth description of the patient's case, including symptoms, diagnosis, therapy, and outcome. Incorporate any relevant photos or diagnostic findings (150-300 words).
Reflect on the implications of your case and its contribution to the field's knowledge (around 200-250 words).
Summarize the key findings and explain why your case report is essential. Make a convincing argument about how your case report can help healthcare professionals in your field, emphasizing the importance of awareness about this particular presentation.
Cite all the references you have used while writing your case report. Follow the Vancouver or AMA style of references commonly used in medicine. However, the referencing style might differ from one journal to another.
Polishing and Submitting Your Case Report
Once you have structured your case report, choose a journal to submit it to—preferably a PubMed or SCOPUS-indexed journal with a high impact factor (at least>1). Review the "Instructions for Authors" section on the journal's homepage to learn about the specific requirements for cover letters, title pages, copyright forms, and word counts.
Here's a top-secret tip: check if similar cases have not been published in the journal in the last 2-3 years, as this increases your chances of getting published.
Review and revise your work to ensure it is clear, well-written, and meets the journal's standards.
What If Your Case Report Gets Rejected by a Journal
To know what to expect from a journal, you can review the acceptance of that journal which is generally provided on the journal's home page. If your case report gets rejected, review the editorial comments provided with your rejection letter. Most editors make an effort to give you personalized feedback on why they did or didn't feel that your article deserved a high priority to be published in their journal. Consider this to be a second set of expert eyes on your paper. Instead of brooding and considering them to be negative comments, take this as constructive criticism. In my experience, this is the most effective way to learn how to write a good case report. Actively make an effort to address all the feedback while revising your manuscript before sending it to another journal.
To Sum Things Up
Writing a case report requires patience and perseverance, and disappointments may occur along the way. Even if your case report is perfect, it may not get accepted after the first attempt. But don't let that discourage you! Remember that failure is a step toward success. Keep pushing forward, and becoming a published author will be worth all the effort. So, start with one case report, share your experiences, and contribute to advancing medical knowledge. You've got this!
If you've come this far, I might as well pitch my services: Avail my medical research consulting services if you are still unsure of how to write a case report.