University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Research Help

PICO Clinical Questions

PICO is a framework for developing a clinical question that is focused, specific, and answerable. PICO is a widely used tool, and the first step, in evidence-based practice. Formulating a PICO question helps to identify keywords or search terms for efficiently searching the literature for the best evidence for making patient care decisions.

What is PICO?

PICO is a mnemonic used to describe the elements of a clinical question:

P Population or Patient Problem
What is the problem to be addressed?
I Intervention
What action, change, or treatment would affect the population or patient problem?
C Comparison
What is the alternative to the intervention?
O Outcome
What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve or affect?
T Timeframe

PICO Template

The PICO elements can be structured into a question that you can then address with relevant quality evidence. The basic format for a PICO question is:

In ____(P), how does ____ (I) compared with ____ (C) affect ____ (O)?

Example: In hospitalized adults (P), how does hourly rounding (I), compared with no rounding (C), affect falls (O)?

You may not need to include all components of PICO; often two or three elements are sufficient. The question format is slightly different for different types of research questions.

Question & Study Types

The following table provides a PICO example for different question types along with study type options if you are unable to find higher levels of evidence such as practice guidelines, systematic reviews or meta-analyses. Learn more about study types and the evidence pyramid

Question Type Determines PICO Template Study Types*
Therapy Which treatment will result in the best outcome In______(P)
how does___(I)
compared with___(C)
randomized controlled trial (RCT)
cohort study
case control
case series
Diagnosis Ability of a test to predict likelihood of a disease In _________(P)
is ___________(I)
compared with___(C)
more accurate in diagnosing___(O)
randomized controlled trial (RCT)
cohort study
case control
Etiology Negative impacts from an intervention, greatest risk factors or causes of a condition Are _______(P)
who have ___(I)
compared with____(C)
at_____risk for ___(O)
randomized controlled trial (RCT)
cohort study
case control
case series
Prognosis Progression of a disease or likelihood of a disease occurring In _________ (P)
how does _______(I)
compared with___(C)
cohort study
case control
case series
* If you can’t find guidelines, systematic reviews, or meta-analyses, these are the best study types to answer your question.

Questions & Help

If you have questions on this, or another, topic, contact a librarian for help!