Title. Case study research methods in end-of-life care: reflections on three studies
Aim. This paper is an evaluation of the use of case study methods, drawing on three research studies conducted by the authors in end-of-life care and bereavement.
Background. Case study methods have their origins in social anthropology and draw on the principles of naturalistic inquiry. They have been used in a number of disciplines, including qualitative sociology, management science, education and organizational psychology for the understanding and evaluation of complex social systems. They are an appropriate research design for examining processes and outcomes in dynamic healthcare organizations, where it is important to obtain multiple perspectives.
Method. We explore issues in case study research design, recruitment and data collection drawing on three studies conducted between 2000 and 2005 in six community hospitals, five adult hospice bereavement services and eight childhood bereavement services in the United Kingdom. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected using interviews, focus groups, observations, documentary analysis, standardized measures and questionnaires.
Discussion. The process of case study design is described, including building upon a clear rationale for the selection of cases, collection of data, preparation of single case reports, cross-case analysis and interpretation. In a critical discussion of recruitment, we recommend identification of a key contact person at each site to facilitate access and minimize misunderstanding, disruption to clinical services and ‘gate-keeping’. Three principal methods of data collection: interviews, observation and documentary data analysis form the foundation of the rich data set necessary to explore cases in their situational contexts.
Conclusion. Case study methods may be empowering for participants because they value their experiences and reveal how their work contributes to teamwork within organizations. They can therefore be both affirming and challenging, as they may expose both conflicts and tensions.