#OTalk – 1st February 2022 – Case study research and occupational therapy

Hosted by Leona McQuaid (@LeonaMcquaid) along with Katrina Bannigan (@KatrinaBannigan) and Katie Thomson (@Katiethomson9)

@OTalk host: @nikkidanielsOT

In order to address our research priorities, the RCOT has set out a vision for a “culture that embraces engaging in and with research as every occupational therapists’ business” (RCOT, 2019, p8). However, occupational therapists report a lack of research knowledge, time, resources, and organizational support as barriers to conducting research (Di Bona et al, 2017; Thomas & Law, 2013). In addition, the complexity of occupational therapy and the dynamic relationship between the person, environment and occupation, is challenging to capture in research environments. Complex intervention literature has suggested that case study research is a valuable but underutilised approach to capture this important contextual detail (Paparini et al, 2021).

Case study research is “a design of enquiry found in many fields, especially evaluation, in which the researcher develops an in-depth analysis of a case, often a program, event, activity, a process or one or more individuals. Cases are bounded by time and activity and researchers collect detailed information using a variety of data collection procedures over a sustained period of time.” (Stake 1995; Yin 2009 as cited in Creswell 2018, p.14). When applied to occupational therapy, a case might be a person, group or population within a caseload and the use of multiple sources of data resemble the information gathering and evaluation stages of the occupational therapy process. The suitability of case study research for capturing occupational therapy practice has previously been advocated within the profession (Colborn, 1996; Fisher & Ziviani, 2004; Carey, 2020) and so this #OTalk seeks to explore your views of how it can be materialized. 

It must be noted, there are many misconceptions about what case study research is. For instance, it is not the same as case reports or case illustrations for purely descriptive or educational purposes; it is a research method with data collection and analysis. It is not always qualitative; it can be used for exploratory or explanatory purposes too, including the single case experiment (Yin, 2018; Stake 1995). It is also not always a single case, it can involve multiple or collective cases. The findings of a single case are unlikely to be generalizable, but with a collection of comparable cases, generalization to other settings is possible. As the value of a single case is its comparability to others, it is important then that a precise process is followed, for example through the use of a standard protocol or framework.

CSOT: Case Study research in Occupational Therapy is the focus of my PhD research at Glasgow Caledonian University, supported by the Elizabeth Casson Trust. We aim to work collaboratively with occupational therapists to develop a framework for the uniform collection of data and conduct of case study research from occupational therapy practice. This is especially important as reviews of case study research have noted inconsistencies in methods and reporting quality (Hyett, Kenny, Dickson-Swift, 2014; Jónasdóttir et al, 2018; Hercegovac, Kernot & Stanley, 2020). When cases are collected using a common framework, they can be stored in an organized database. Researchers can extract data from this larger dataset and conduct practice related research to address research priorities. Through this pragmatic approach, case study research can provide a means for practitioners and researchers to collaborate in growing the occupational therapy evidence base and achieve the vision that research is every occupational therapist’s business.

#OTalk questions for discussion:

  1. What has been your experience of case study research to date? 
  2. What, if anything has surprised you about case study research from the blog?
  3. What do you think is the appeal of collecting rigorous case studies from occupational therapy practice to inform research? 
  4. What would enable you to complete one case study from practice per year?
  5. What benefits might this pragmatic approach have for practitioners, researchers, clients?
  6. What strengths and skills do occupational therapists use in practice that could be transferable to case study research


Carey H. An integrative review of case study methodologies in occupational therapy publications. Brazilian J Occup Ther. 2021;28(4):1284–96. 

Colborn AP. A Case for Case Study Research.  Am J Occup Ther. 1996;50(7):592–4. 

Creswell JW&, David C& J. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative & mixed methods approaches. 5th ed. London: SAGE Publications; 2018.

di Bona L, Wenborn J, Field B, Hynes SM, Ledgerd R, Mountain G, et al. Enablers and challenges to occupational therapists’ research engagement: A qualitative study. The Br J Occup Ther.  2017;80(11):642–50. 

Fisher I, Ziviani J. Explanatory case studies: Implications and applications for clinical research. Aust Occup Ther J. 2004;51(4):185–91. 

Hercegovac S, Kernot J, Stanley M. How Qualitative Case Study Methodology Informs Occupational Therapy Practice: A Scoping Review. OTJR (Thorofare N J). 2020;40(1):6–16.

Hyett N, Kenny A, Dickson-Swift V. Methodology or method? A critical review of qualitative case study reports. Int Journal Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2014;9(1). 

Jónasdóttir SK, Hand C, Misener L, Polgar J. Applying case study methodology to occupational science research. J Occup Sci. 2018;25(3):393–407. 

Paparini S, Papoutsi C, Murdoch J, Green J, Petticrew M, Greenhalgh T, et al. Evaluating complex interventions in context: systematic, meta-narrative review of case study approaches. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2021; 21(1):225. 

Royal College of Occupational Therapists. Royal College of Occupational Therapists’ research and development strategy 2019–2024 – RCOT [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Apr 11]. Available from: https://www.rcot.co.uk/node/2421

Stake RE. The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications; 1995. 

Thomas A, Law M. Research utilization and evidence-based practice in occupational therapy: A scoping study.  Am J Occup Ther. 2013;67(4):55–65. 

Yin RK. Case Study Research and Applications Design and Methods. 6thed. Los Angeles: SAGE publications; 2018. 


Host:  Leona McQuaid (@LeonaMcquaid) along with Katrina Bannigan (@KatrinaBannigan) and Katie Thomson (@Katiethomson9)

Support on OTalk Account: @nikkidanielsOT

Evidence your CPD. If you joined in this chat you can download the below transcript as evidence for your CPD, but remember the HCPC are interested in what you have learnt.  So why not complete one of our reflection logs to evidence your learning?

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