What is PICOT? PICOT is an acronym that stand for:
Who are the relevant patients? This could include diagnosis, age, gender, geographic location, or other characteristics.
What is the variable of interest? This could be a drug, a therapeutic approach, a diagnostic test, or an exposure to name a few.
What is the comparison or control? This could be no treatment, usual care, a different treatment or therapeutic approach, or a diagnostic gold standard.
What is the outcome of interest? This could be a reduction or elimination of symptoms, improved screening and diagnosis, or other outcome of the intervention.
How long will it take to realize the outcome? Note, time is not always included, and generally does not impact your literature review.
Using PICOT is helpful because:
- it helps you more from a general topic of interest to a structured, answerable clinical question
- it can guide the development of the search strategy you will use during your literature review.
PICOT Question and Search Strategies
Your PICOT question should help you develop your search strategy, and it should drive your keyword selection. Things to keep in mind when developing your search strategy:
- P: If your patient/population, includes specific age groups, most databases, including PubMed, CINAHL, and PsycINFO have filters that will allow you to easily limit your search results to articles that include those age groups.
- I: Search terms for your intervention will always be part of your search strategy.
- C: If your comparison is no intervention, usual care or something similar, do not include these as search terms.
- O: Carefully consider search terms related to your outcome. Do not include directional terms, like improve, reduce, or alleviate. Remember- you're investigating a hypothesis, not proving a point!
- T: With very few exceptions, your T is not included in your search strategy.
Clinical Question and Ideal Study Type
The following primary studies provide the highest level of evidence for a specific type of question. Synthesized, or secondary research, like systematic reviews and meta-analysis, often provide the highest level of evidence on any given question.
Therapy: How effective is this treatment?
Randomized Controlled Trials > Controlled Trials
Prevention: How can this problem be prevented?
Randomized Controlled Trials > Controlled Trials > Cohort Study > Case Control
Diagnosis: What is the best test for this patient/problem?
Prospective Study > Blind Controlled Trial compared to Diagnostic Gold Standard
Prognosis: What is the long-term outcome of this condition?
Cohort Study > Case Control Study > Case Series > Case Report
Meaning/Experience: How do people experience this phenomenon?