What's in a Name? The Incorrect Use of Case Series as a Study Design Label in Studies Involving Dogs and Cats.

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Study design labels are used to identify relevant literature to address specific clinical and research questions and to aid in evaluating the evidentiary value of research. Evidence from the human healthcare literature indicates that the label "case series" may be used inconsistently and inappropriately.

OBJECTIVE

Our primary objective was to determine the proportion of studies in the canine and feline veterinary literature labeled as case series that actually corresponded to descriptive cohort studies, population-based cohort studies, or other study designs. Our secondary objective was to identify the proportion of case series in which potentially inappropriate inferential statements were made.

DESIGN

Descriptive evaluation of published literature.

PARTICIPANTS

One-hundred published studies (from 19 journals) labeled as case series.

METHODS

Studies were identified by a structured literature search, with random selection of 100 studies from the relevant citations. Two reviewers independently characterized each study, with disagreements resolved by consensus.

RESULTS

Of the 100 studies, 16 were case series. The remaining studies were descriptive cohort studies (35), population-based cohort studies (36), or other observational or experimental study designs (13). Almost half (48.8%) of the case series or descriptive cohort studies, with no control group and no formal statistical analysis, included inferential statements about the efficacy of treatment or statistical significance of potential risk factors.

CONCLUSIONS

Authors, peer-reviewers, and editors should carefully consider the design elements of a study to accurately identify and label the study design. Doing so will facilitate an understanding of the evidentiary value of the results.

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