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Qual Health Res. 2007 Dec;17(10):1309-15.

Combining case study research and systems theory as a heuristic model.

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  • 1James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.


The combined use of case study and systems theory is not often seen in the literature. The use of both approaches enables the specifics of the case to consider the influence of broader systems and external environments, offering in-depth exploration as well as comparative analysis between cases in the context of the system. Health care has obvious systems operating that may have developed from organizational hierarchies, funding mechanisms, or traditional service delivery of health care. Systems theory is ideally suited to examine health care and health promotion sites, such as hospitals or universities. Sites can use the principles of systems theory to explore innovation, change, and complexity of service delivery in the context of a case study approach. This article discusses how the combination of the two can act as a heuristic model, offering its application to emergency department physiotherapy as an example, to further bolster the evidence base for using such a methodology.

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