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BMC Emerg Med. 2009 Jun 15;9:10. doi: 10.1186/1471-227X-9-10.

Case reports describing treatments in the emergency medicine literature: missing and misleading information.



Although randomized trials and systematic reviews provide the "best evidence" for guiding medical practice, many emergency medicine journals still publish case reports (CRs). The quality of the reporting in these publications has not been assessed.


In this study we sought to determine the proportion of treatment-related case reports that adequately reported information about the patient, disease, interventions, co-interventions, outcomes and other critical information.


We identified CRs published in 4 emergency medicine journals in 2000-2005 and categorized them according to their purpose (disease description, overdose or adverse drug reactioin, diagnostic test or treatment effect). Treatment-related CRs were reviewed for the presence or absence of 11 reporting elements.


All told, 1,316 CRs were identified; of these, 85 (6.5%; 95CI = 66, 84) were about medical or surgical treatments. Most contained adequate descriptions of the patient (99%; 95CI = 95, 100), the stage and severity of the patient's disease (88%; 95CI = 79, 93), the intervention (80%; 95CI = 70, 87) and the outcomes of treatment (90%; 95CI = 82, 95). Fewer CRs reported the patient's co-morbidities (45%; 95CI = 35, 56), concurrent medications (30%; 95CI = 21, 40) or co-interventions (57%; 95CI = 46, 67) or mentioned any possible treatment side-effects (33%; 95CI = 24, 44). Only 37% (95CI = 19, 38) discussed alternative explanations for favorable outcomes. Generalizability of treatment effects to other patients was mentioned in only 29% (95CI = 20, 39). Just 2 CRs (2.3%; 95CI = 1, 8) reported a 'denominator" (number of patients subjected to the same intervention, whether or not successful.


Treatment-related CRs in emergency medicine journals often omit critical details about treatments, co-interventions, outcomes, generalizability, causality and denominators. As a result, the information may be misleading to providers, and the clinical applications may be detrimental to patient care.

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