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Nursing - Forming Focused Questions Using PICO

Library resources for the Department of Nursing

What does PICO mean?

The first stage of any evidence-based practice process is formulating an answerable question. Evidence Based Practice is a process and the PICO question plays an important role in that process. This forms the foundation for quality searching. A well-formulated question will facilitate the search for evidence and will assist you in determining whether the evidence is relevant to your question.

An answerable question has a format that follows the PICO concept. The acronym translates to:

  • PPopulations/People/Patient/Problem
  • IIntervention(s)
  • CComparison
  • OOutcome
Why Should You Use PICO?

- Helps you form a focused question that will return relevant results

- Helps you retrieve a manageable amount of results

- Assists you in brainstorming keywords for your research

- Saves time!

When Should You Use PICO?

- In academia when you are looking for evidence to support best practice

- When you have a question about patient care

P + I + C + O = Clinical Question

P = Patient/Problem

Description of the patient  - what are the most important characteristics? Is gender, age, or ethnicity relevant to the diagnosis or treatment of the problem?

What is the primary problem, disease, or co-existing condition?

I = Intervention

What do you want to do for the patient?

What main intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure are you considering?

C = Comparison

Are there standard or alternative treatments to compare with the planned intervention?

Keep in mind that not all clinical questions will have a comparison.

O = Outcome

What do you hope to accomplish, measure, improve, or affect?