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Nursing : Formulating Clinical Questions

A research guide for nursing students

Clincal Questions

A well-built clinical question is directly relevant to patient care and helps guide searching for evidence-based answers. There are generally four components of a good clinical question and they are represented by the acronym PICO.

P - Patient, population or problem of interest

I - Intervention - therapy, diagnostic test, exposure, etc.

C - Comparison intervention, if relevant

O - Outcome(s) of interest

For example, you might start by wondering, "What's the best form of birth control?"  But "best" is subjective - you'll need to restate your question in the PICO format to get a clincal answer.

  • P - Best birth control for whom?  Teenagers?  Women who have already given birth?
  • I - Which specific methods are you examining?  Condoms?  Implanted horomonal methods?
  • C - Which other option will you compare this intervention to?  Condoms compared an IUD is a different question than condoms compared to no birth control at all.
  • O - Pregnancy is an obvious outcome of concern, but what about side effects? Or how frequently or effectively the patient uses the method?

The PICO format will help you translate your question from an initial broad topic,or specific patient's experience, to a concrete, objective question that you can find clinical evidence to answer.