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Using Case Studies to Improve Patient Care

A significant challenge for any student is applying knowledge from the classroom to a real-world situation. Memorizing and regurgitating facts does not demonstrate effective learning, application of knowledge or critical thinking. Case studies in nursing education, like La Salle University’s online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, help nurses distinguish and analyze essential information. Active learning with case studies can improve understanding of relevant information and often motivates nurses to expand their knowledge and improve clinical judgment.

What Is a Case Study?

Most nurses are familiar with patient case studies as a teaching strategy for nurses and other healthcare professionals. This type of clinical case study discusses a patient with specific background, situation and presenting symptoms and often includes some initial laboratory values. As the patient case study unfolds, learners answer questions or discuss concerns.

Similarly, case study research is a methodology that provides a holistic approach to real-life situations or events. Although there are various definitions of a case study approach, bestselling author Yin says it allows an in-depth exploration of “a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context.”

How Can a Case Study Help Learning?

A case study method provides a holistic approach to everyday events with several benefits:

  • Allows for flexibility depending on the context of the real-world situation
  • Aids in connecting research and theory to practice
  • Provides problem-solving skills applicable to practice
  • Immerses the learner in complex clinical realities
  • Increases researcher and learner engagement by learning from others
  • Reinforces the application of evidence-based practice with constant medical advances
  • Challenges nurses to evaluate current care or care delivery
  • Promotes critical thinking
  • Sparks ideas to improve patient care

By reviewing case studies with qualitative and quantitative research, nurses gain the skills to evaluate evidence-based practice (EBP) in a real-world situation. EBP integrates a three-pronged approach of using current evidence, clinical expertise and patient values and preferences to create best-practice clinical guidance for healthcare decisions.

What Is an Example Using a Case Study Approach?

A real-world example of applying case study research focuses on improving primary care for low-income populations. This case study profiles two independent primary care clinics — the Thomas Chittenden Health Center in Vermont, which aims to address the physical, behavioral and social needs of patients, and the Wright & Associates Family Healthcare in New Hampshire, which seeks to develop a therapeutic trusting relationship with patients while providing comprehensive, low-cost primary care.

The case study aimed to explore how these two independent primary care practices are “leveraging their independence to tailor services to patients who struggle to afford care, have chronic physical or behavioral health conditions, and/or need help finding social support.” This case study compares and contrasts the two facilities, including their background, leadership, geographic location, patient population, programs and care delivery services. But, perhaps most importantly, it outlines their shared approaches to address the challenges and successes benefiting their low-income patients.

The importance of this case study is that healthcare is now “big business,” and independent primary care clinics and clinicians often do not have a voice in discussions on how to reform healthcare. Both practices heavily rely on nurse practitioners, much like many rural and underserved areas of the United States. Primary care must focus on the patient’s holistic needs, including medical, mental, social or behavioral problems, particularly since patients have more complex care with comorbidities and various social determinants of health (SDOH). In this case study, poverty can be a significant barrier to care that impact patient outcomes.

How Can Case Study Methodology Improve SDOH?

Case studies help expand knowledge and practice on how to close the health equity gap by addressing SDOHs. According to a Healthy People 2030 resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SDOHs are “conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affects a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” Case study methodology can help increase the understanding of the significance of SDOHs and offer insights into strategies to address them using either a targeted or population-based approach.

For example, research may focus on a broader understanding of SDOH’s impact on health promotion or a more focused look at psychological trauma after a school shooting using an SDOH approach. With a more substantial knowledge base and exploring evidence-based practice to improve patient outcomes and population health, nurses can contribute to efforts to help people live their healthiest lives possible.

La Salle University’s online RN to BSN program uses case study research to help graduates improve the care they deliver to patients. In the Evidence-Based Practice course, students review case studies as an active problem-solving method based on real-life settings to expand their nursing knowledge and apply EBP principles to refine their practice.

Learn more about La Salle University’s online RN to BSN program.

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