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EBM: Evidence Based Medicine

Asking Answerable Questions

The first step in evidence based research is learning how to ask

an answerable clinical question.

A helpful technique to use to assemble this question is to employ the PICO mnemonic. 


P: Patient, Problem, Population

Sex, age, race? Primary complaint? Disease History?

I: Intervention or Therapy

What do you want to do for your patient? Prescribe a drug? Order a test?

C: Comparison, Control

What alternatives do you want to compare the intervention to?

O: Outcome

What do you hope to accomplish, improve or affect? Relieve or reduce symptoms? Improve function or improve test scores?


PICO helps form a focused question that will return relevant results, it helps you retrieve a manageable number of results, and it can assist in brainstorming keywords for your research. Using PICO to construct a well-built clinical question can lead directly to a well-built search strategy.  It is not necessary to use all the information in PICO in your search strategy; you may wish to leave out terms to achieve results that are more broad.