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Evidence-based Practice

What Is the PICO Formula?

Within healthcare, a PICO/PICOT formulated question helps healthcare practitioners and nurses to create a specific, focused search query. A well-formulated research question helps to guide the clinical, PICOT, or research process.

The table below provides an overview of the PICO/PICOT formula along with an example.

P
I
C
O
T
Patient / Population / Problem Intervention Comparison of Intervention Outcome Time frame
Who is the patient or group? What will you do for the patient or group? What will be the alternative or comparison plan? What is the outcome or goal you would like to achieve for the patient or group? What will be the time frame? 
Patient / Population / Problem (condition or disease) Ex. treatment, therapy, prevention, test, diagnosis, observation, drug, surgery, etc.

Ex. treatment, therapy, prevention, test, diagnosis, observation, drug, surgery, etc. Note, there might not always be a comparison particularly for public health or health service research such as educational interventions.

Optional; may include a change in health, avoiding death, reducing complications, etc. Optional; time frame (ex. hours, days, weeks, months, years)
Women over age 65 with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus patient education on management of disease no patient education improved health status  
Women over age 65 with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus self-paced patient education on management of disease outpatient education on management of disease improved health status 6 months

Sample PICO question: In women over age 65 (P), what is the effect of a patient education program on management of disease (I) compared to no patient education (C) on improved health status (O)?*

Sample PICOT question: In women over age 65 (P), what is the effect of a self-paced patient education program on management of disease (I) compared to an outpatient education program on management of disease (C) on improved health status (O) within 6 months (T)?*

*Both questions above utilize the PICOT Questions Template adopted from Ellen Fineout-Overholt linked below.

Below review sample templates for PICO formulated questions related to intervention, diagnosis, etiology, prevention, prognosis/prediction, quality of life/meaning, or therapy from the Northern Arizona University Library.

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