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 PICO templates for each type of question along with recommended study types as shown in 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!