Single-Case Design, Analysis, and Quality Assessment for Intervention Research

J Neurol Phys Ther. 2017 Jul;41(3):187-197. doi: 10.1097/NPT.0000000000000187.


Background and purpose: The purpose of this article is to describe single-case studies and contrast them with case studies and randomized clinical trials. We highlight current research designs, analysis techniques, and quality appraisal tools relevant for single-case rehabilitation research.

Summary of key points: Single-case studies can provide a viable alternative to large group studies such as randomized clinical trials. Single-case studies involve repeated measures and manipulation of an independent variable. They can be designed to have strong internal validity for assessing causal relationships between interventions and outcomes, as well as external validity for generalizability of results, particularly when the study designs incorporate replication, randomization, and multiple participants. Single-case studies should not be confused with case studies/series (ie, case reports), which are reports of clinical management of a patient or a small series of patients.

Recommendations for clinical practice: When rigorously designed, single-case studies can be particularly useful experimental designs in a variety of situations, such as when research resources are limited, studied conditions have low incidences, or when examining effects of novel or expensive interventions. Readers will be directed to examples from the published literature in which these techniques have been discussed, evaluated for quality, and implemented.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Medical Records*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design*