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Evidence Based Practice Resources

PICOT Questions

What is PICOT? PICOT is an acronym that stand for: 

P: Population/Patient
Who are the relevant patients? This could include diagnosis, age, gender, geographic location, or other characteristics.  

I: Intervention
What is the variable of interest? This could be a drug, a therapeutic approach, a diagnostic test, or an exposure to name a few. 

C: Comparison
What is the comparison or control? This could be no treatment, usual care, a different treatment or therapeutic approach, or a diagnostic gold standard. 

O: Outcome
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.  

T: Time: 
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. 

TherapyHow 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? 
Qualitative Studies


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