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Medical Student Library Resources: PICO

What is PICO?

PICO: A mnemonic device to help formulate a clinical question and search strategy by identifying key concepts. 

P Patient/Population/Problem Describe your patient or the problem - be specific
I Intervention/Indicator Treatment, cause, prognostic factor, etc.
C Comparison/Control Compared to another treatment or standard of care (optional)
O Outcome Improvement or negative effects?

The Clinical Question


THERAPY determining the effect of interventions on patient-important outcomes
DIAGNOSIS establishing the power of a test to differentiate between those with and without a target condition or disease
HARM ascertaining the effects of potentially harmful agents on patient-important outcomes
PROGNOSIS estimating a patient's future course

4 ELEMENTS OF THE CLINICAL QUESTION (PICO) - use for therapy questions


PICO Worksheet

 PICO Tutorial


What are their most important characteristics?

  • Primary problem
  • Disease state
  • Co-existing condition

Describe your patient specifically:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic factors

ALWAYS include this piece in your search.


What do you want to do for the patient?

  • Order a test
  • Prescribe a drug
  • Order a procedure

Other considerations:

  • Main intervention
  • Prognostic factors
  • Exposures

Almost always include this piece in your search.


What is the alternate intervention, if any?

  • A different drug
  • No medication
  • A Placebo
  • A different test
  • A different procedure

It is less common to include this piece in a search.


What are you hoping to achieve, measure, or change for the patient?

  • Alleviate symptoms
  • Improve test results
  • Reduce adverse events
  • Improve function

Could also be the result NOT desired.

Sometimes include this piece in your search.

Example Questions

1. Does Constraint-induced Aphasia Therapy (intervention) improve aphasia (outcome) in stroke patients (patient)?

2. In kindergarteners (patient), is individual pull-out treatment (intervention) more effective than group pull-out treatment (comparison) for improving articulation disorders (outcome)?