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Dr. med. dent. Jan Hermann Koch, dental journalist and consultant

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Case studies told as stories – cross-media and image-centric

The documentation of dental treatment, commonly known as a case study, is the classic approach. Hitherto only found as print versions in journals, today they are everywhere online as slideshows or videos. The following section gives an overview of how to present and adapt case studies to increase receptiveness in the cross-media era.

Cases studies can provide useful orientation for dentists in relation to a treatment method, especially when they present new practical and usable information. This requires high quality images and an accurate description of each step in the procedure. Ideally, case studies can do much more: they can provide indications of whether a method is suitable or not, even before scientific investigation (1, 2). They can contain highly relevant suggestions and valuable information for clinical studies, therefore having the potential to improve medical care.

“A case study tells a story (…) of the reason for treatment, findings, diagnoses, therapeutic measures and outcomes, including side effects (…).” (1). Once finished, the treatment is discussed and – practicable – conclusions drawn, naturally taking current literature into account. At the same time, it should be clear how the patient rates the treatment outcomes. Read here a current example in this specialist article.

Image information close to the picture

Case studies are often only available online. This is because it allows the publication of unlimited numbers of images – practically without any extra cost. Of course, even in this context there are limits to receptivity. There is unfortunately often a lack of any meaningful explanation alongside the images. In contrast to what many dental authors may believe, not all the relevant details can be seen on the images: neither the age of the patient nor their gender, neither the timeline between the treatments nor relevant details connected to the (new) technique. At the same time, it is ineffective to search through the text to find the required information. This just unnecessarily transfers the problems associated with printed case studies to the online world.

The solution is easy: the most informative legends should be positioned directly beneath or alongside the image. This means that the story depicted in the case study can be told solely in the sequence of the images ( cf. Spieckermann, logo special print, for Camlog Biotechnologies). Clinical, radiological and other findings can be included in the legend together with the anamnesis. The final images need to comprise a brief evaluation together with conclusions.

Introduction and discussion serve as the basis of the in-depth contextual framework. The introduction includes a mostly short description of the focus and aim of the case study – the usual - in the sense of scientific publications – “focus question”. The discussion includes at the end a description of the course of treatment and outcomes. At this point, there is an opportunity to include and expand upon patient-related and methodological information and place it in a greater context.

Take advantage of cross-media added-value

High quality printed case studies in professional journals can be a reading and visual pleasure. Online they appear as PDF versions although – apart from more elegant ways of archiving – they are without real added-value. Taking things a step further, there are online articles combined with user-friendly image sequences (slideshows). These can be added to by introducing further multimedia elements, e.g. videos showing treatment procedures, screenshots or screen videos from software or interactive online applications (e.g. CAD/CAMRender). Video slideshows are a further option. However, all these image-based options are only clinically useful if they are presented with relevant and sufficiently extensive explanations. These can be text-based legends or, comparable to film scores, spoken commentary to go with the videos or video sequences. Click here to see the complete print version with teaser of the above example.

Thorough professional grounding remains the basis

Naturally there are many more possibilities, e.g. using Facebook, YouTube and co. No matter the destination of the multimedia journey, the professional content, practicability and credibility of the recommendations presented will always come first. Ideally, the case studies should be presented as stories which are a pleasure to read but will nevertheless promote dental medicine.

Further in-depth articles

  1. Gagnier JJ, Kienle G, Altman DG, Moher D, Sox H, Riley D, et al. The CARE Guidelines: Consensus-based Clinical Case Reporting Guideline Development. Global Advances in Health and Medicine 2013;2:38-43.
  2. CARE group, Riley D. Why case reports? What are the CARE guidelines? online database, accessed 20190429.

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