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Developing a PICO Question

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What is a PICO(T) Question?

PICO(T) is a process used for framing a research question that allows for more effective location, assessment, and evaluation of sources. It is a popular model used within evidence-based practice research. The PICO(T) question is composed of different segments: Population/Patient, Intervention, Comparison/Control, Outcome, and Time. In order to have a fully developed PICO(T) question, it must contain each of these segments.




Who are the relevant patients? Be sure to consider factors such as age, sex, geographic location, or those with a particular condition that are relevant to your question.



What is the medication, management strategy, diagnostic test, or exposure that you would like to focus on?

C Comparison/Control Other than your intervention, is there an alternative management strategy, diagnostic test, or exposure that you would like to use as a comparison?
O Outcome What are the relevant patient-relevant results of the intervention?
T Time What is the time frame? This element is not always included.


PICO(T) Segment Examples

Below are examples of the different segments of a PICO(T) question. Note that, when combined, a PICO(T) question becomes quite specific. Keep in mind that this chart constructs a PICO(T) question with the elements in the same order every time. This does not always need to be the case. Depending on how you structure the sentence, the intervention can come before the population, or the outcome can be placed at the beginning.


  Population/Patient Intervention Comparison/Control Outcome Time
Example #1 In patients with arthritis does physical therapy none reduce joint inflammation within a year
Example #2 In elderly patients with throat cancer what are the current treatments in the management of fever and infection none none
Example #3 In high school children what is the effect of a nurse-led presentation on bullying compared to no intervention decreased reporting in bullying within a 6-month time frame
Example #4 In adults over age 50 is a yearly mammogram compared to a mammogram every 3 years more effective in detecting breast cancer none


Asking Different Types of PICO(T) Questions

It's also important to note that PICO(T) questions can be created to ask different types of questions. Below is a table of the different types of PICO(T) questions that you might create, with examples of what each segment of a PICO(T) question would be for each question type.


  Population/Patient Intervention Comparison/Control Outcome
Treatment (Therapy) Patient disease or condition Medication, surgical intervention, or lifestyle change Standard of care, another therapy, placebo Mortality rate, pain level, days lost from work
Prevention Patient risk factors or general health condition A preventive measure such as a medication or lifestyle change May not be applicable Disease incidence, mortality rate, days lost from work
Diagnosis Target disease or condition Diagnostic test or procedure The standard of practice or another intervention Measures of the test utility such as accuracy, specificity, or sensitivity
Etiology (Causation) Patient risk factors, health disorder, or general health condition A specific strength and duration of exposure to a risk factor May not be applicable in this case Disease incidence, rate of disease progression, mortality rates


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