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Systematic Review

What is PICO?

The PICO format is often used to to help define and answer your research question. 

By organizing a research question using PICO, a researcher can determine specific terms that will help find relevant evidence in professional literature


Database Filter Options for PICO

  • There are multiple limits in advanced search that can help with population: 
    • Age Groups
    • Sex
    • Human
  • Special Interest Limits
    Options here  might help with any of PICO. Here are a few of the options available: 
    • Gerontological Care
    • Nutrition
    • Pain and Pain Management
  • Try the Clinical Queries limit
    Therapy and prognosis may help with intervention and outcome
    • Therapy - High Sensitivity (broader)
    • Therapy - High Specificity (narrower)
    • Therapy - Best Balanced (balanced between sensitivity and specificity)
    • Prognosis - High Sensitivity (broader)
    • Prognosis - High Specificity (narrower)
    • Prognosis - Best Balanced (balanced between sensitivity and specificity)


  • POPULATION: What are the characteristics of this patient population and the problem/ question that is being addressed?
  • INTERVENTION: What is the treatment or course of action typically taken being considered?
  • COMPARISON: What is the alternative (or standard course of action) to the intervention to compare it to?
  • OUTCOME: What is the hoped for accomplishment/ improvement/ or affect for the stated population?

Framing Different Types of Clinical Questions


Questions addressing how a clinical issue, illness, or disability is treated.

"In__________________(P), how does__________________(I) compared to_________________(C) affect______________(O)?"


Questions that address the causes or origin of disease, the factors which produce or predispose toward a certain disease or disorder.

"Are_________________(P), who have_________________(I) compared with those without_________________(C) at_________________risk for/of_________________(O) over_________________(T)?" 


Questions addressing the act or process of identifying or determining the nature and cause of a disease or injury through evaluation.

In_________________(P) are/is_________________(I) compared with_________________(C) more accurate in diagnosing_________________(O)?


Questions addressing the prediction of the course of a disease.

In_________________(P), how does_________________(I) compared to_________________ (C) influence_________________(O)?


Questions addressing how one experiences a phenomenon or why we need to approach practice differently.

"How do_________________(P) with_________________(I) perceive_________________(O)?" 

Adapted from: Melnyk, B. M., & Fineout-Overholt, E. (2011). Evidence-based practice in nursing & healthcare: A guide to best practice. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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