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Evidence Based Practice

An Interprofessional Guide

Formulating an Answerable Clinical Question: PICO

When crafting your foreground question, PICO is a mnemonic that helps you formulate a specific, answerable clinical or research question.

P = Patient (population or problem) - Who or what are you studying?
I = Intervention  - What is the diagnostic test, treatment or therapy? Or what are the prognostic factors or exposures?
C = Comparison - What are you measuring this intervention against?
O = Outcome(s) - What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve or effect?

  • Your question does not have to be in “PICO” order.  For example: “Does hand washing (I) among healthcare workers reduce (O) hospital acquired infections (P) compared to an alcohol based solution (C)?”
  • If you are asking a question about etiology or harm, swap out the "I" for an "E." E would stand for the exposure a patient experienced.

Once you have your PICO question, you can break down each concept into a search strategy.  You'll need to add two more letters to your mnemonic: T (Type of Question) and T (Type of Study). 

 

  • P  =Patient (population or problem)
  • I = Intervention (prognostic factor or exposure)
  • C = Comparison
  • O = Outcome
  • T = Type of Question
  • T = Type of Study

 

See the next section, Levels of Evidence to learn about the T (Type of Question) and T (Type of Study).


Before you go on to the next section, download a copy of the Document your Research Worksheet. This worksheet will help you practice crafting clinical questions and constructing search strategies in the next sections of this guide.

Using PICO to Formulate a Search Question

Published on Jan 28, 2013. A mini tutorial on finding the evidence provided by Neal Thurley and Owen Coxall who regularly tutor on CEBM courses. It is recommended that you watch them in order.

Turning PICO into a Search Strategy

Published on Jan 28, 2013. A mini tutorial on finding the evidence provided by Neal Thurley and Owen Coxall who regularly tutor on CEBM courses. It is recommended that you watch them in order.

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