Fancy being a case report for medical scientists to ponder? If your answer to that question is yes, then you probably carry a donor card, regularly give blood, and have already willed your body to medical science. If the answer was no, then read on, the following may persuade you to if not donate your remains then perhaps make yourself a case in point.
Medical case reports serve a vital role in medicine. Like those howto and self-help feature articles one sees in popular lifestyle magazines, they focus entirely on an individual patient, but at a slightly more technical level. Case studies provide unique insights into the rare side effects of new medications, early warning indicators of potential new diseases, unexpected associations between diseases or symptoms, and much more. Indeed, it was through case reports in the medical literature, that the earliest information on AIDS, Lyme disease and toxic shock syndrome emerged.
In recent years, however, economic and ethical pressures have led research journals to publish fewer and fewer medical case reports. The main pressure seems to be that such papers are of limited interest when read in isolation and more problematic from the publishers’ point of view are unlikely to be highly cited. Many research journals tout citation counts as a major selling point both to authors and subscribers, so poor-selling papers are unattractive to the marketing team.
The end result, is that a vast wealth of unique scientific data is simply lost.
Michael Kidd, Professor and Head of the Discipline of General Practice at the University of Sydney, hopes to change all that. He is founder of the open access (OA) Journal of Medical Case Reports. The OA approach taken by this journal means that medical case reports can find an audience regardless of citation concerns. By utilizing the OA publishing model, interesting case reports can reach the medical profession where previously they would simply sink without trace. With open access to this information, doctors can easily compare symptoms and treatments between patients and researchers and can sift through thousands of reports to formulate hypotheses and search for patterns and correlations. Who knows when the next AIDS or Lyme disease will emerge. Case reports might provide the first hints from the unfortunate “early adopters.”