Olaf M. Dekkers, MD, PhD, MA, MSc; Matthias Egger, MD, MSc; Douglas G. Altman, DSc; Jan P. Vandenbroucke, MD, PhD
Dekkers OM, Egger M, Altman DG, Vandenbroucke JP. Distinguishing Case Series From Cohort Studies. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:37-40. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-156-1-201201030-00006
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2012;156(1_Part_1):37-40.
Case series are a commonly reported study design, but the label “case series” is used inconsistently and sometimes incorrectly. Mislabeling impairs the appropriate indexing and sorting of evidence.
This article tries to clarify the concept of case series and proposes a way to distinguish them from cohort studies. In a cohort study, patients are sampled on the basis of exposure and are followed over time, and the occurrence of outcomes is assessed. A cohort study may include a comparison group, although this is not a necessary feature. A case series may be a study that samples patients with both a specific outcome and a specific exposure, or one that samples patients with a specific outcome and includes patients regardless of whether they have specific exposures. Whereas a cohort study, in principle, enables the calculation of an absolute risk or a rate for the outcome, such a calculation is not possible in a case series.
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