Exploring the contribution of case study research to the evidence base for occupational therapy: a scoping review

Leona McQuaid*, Katie Thomson, Katrina Bannigan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Background: Case study research is generating interest to evaluate complex interventions. However, it is not clear how this is being utilized by occupational therapists or how feasible it is to contribute to the evidence base. This scoping review explores case study research within occupational therapy in terms of how it is defined, the methodological characteristics adopted, such as data collection and analysis, and the range of practice contexts in which it is applied. We consider the viability of case study research for contributing to our evidence base. Methods: Opinion, text and empirical studies within an occupational therapy practice context were included. A three-step extensive search following Joanna Briggs Institute methodology was conducted in June 2020 and updated in July 2021 across ten databases, websites, peer-reviewed and grey literature from 2016 onwards. Study selection was completed by two independent reviewers. A data extraction table was developed and piloted and data charted to align with research questions. Data extraction was completed by one reviewer and a 10% sample cross checked by another. Results: Eighty-eight studies were included in the review consisting of (n = 84) empirical case study and (n = 4) non-empirical papers. Case study research has been conducted globally, with a range of populations across different settings. The majority were conducted in a community setting (n = 48/84; 57%) with populations experiencing neurodevelopmental disorder (n = 32/84; 38%), stroke (n = 14/84;17%) and non-diagnosis specific (n = 13/84; 15%). Methodologies adopted quantitative (n = 42/84; 50%), mixed methods (n = 22/84; 26%) and qualitative designs (n = 20/84; 24%). However, identifying the methodology and ‘case’ was a challenge due to methodological inconsistencies. Conclusions: Case study research is useful when large-scale inquiry is not appropriate; for cases of complexity, early intervention efficacy, theory testing or when small participant numbers are available. It appears a viable methodology to contribute to the evidence base for occupation and health as it has been used to evaluate interventions across a breadth of occupational therapy practice contexts. Viability could be enhanced through consistent conduct and reporting to allow pooling of case data. A conceptual model and description of case study research in occupational therapy is proposed to support this. Systematic review registration: Open Science Framework 10.17605/OSF.IO/PCFJ6.

Original languageEnglish
Article number132
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2023


  • Case study research
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Occupational therapy
  • Single-case

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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