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SUR 274

PICO Process

What is a PICO question anyway?
Finding relevant medical information is often easier if you first develop a PICO question.  This is a way of formulating a medical question to better match the capabilities of database search engines. 

PICO is an acronym for:
Patient and/or Problem

  • How would you describe a group of patients similar to yours? What are the most important characteristics of the patient? This may include the primary problem, disease, or co-existing conditions. Sometimes the sex, age, or ethnicity of a patient might be relevant to the diagnosis or treatment of a disease.


  • Which main intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure are you considering? What do you want to do for the patient? Prescribe a drug? Order a test? Order surgery? What factor may influence the prognosis of the patient? Age? Co-existing problems? What was the patient exposed to? Asbestos? Cigarette smoke?


  • What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention? Are you trying to decide between two drugs, a drug and no medication or placebo, or two diagnostic tests? Your clinical question may not always have a specific comparison.


  • What can you hope to accomplish, measure, improve or affect? What are you trying to do for the patient? Relieve or eliminate the symptoms? Reduce the number of adverse events? Improve function or test scores?


PICO Example:

In a 4 year old boy requiring antibiotics, do probiotics decrease the risk of developing antibiotic associated diarrhea?

P = 4 yo male on antibiotics
I = probiotics
C = none/placebo
O = decrease the risk of antibiotic associated diarrhea

Use this PubMed provided PICO search tool to try and answer your PICO question.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison Health Sciences Library

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