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NRS 302 - Nursing Research

Library instruction for Spring B 2022.

PICO Questions

PICO questions are a tool used to help you

  • Assess your situation or problem. What does your patient need? What is their clinical problem or question?
  • Construct a well-built question based on your assessment.
  • Search the evidence.

Watch the video and review the examples below to help you develop a PICO question to guide your research proposal.

Download the PICO Question Generator worksheet for a guide:

Case Example

Rita is an RN who works in a nursing home. One of her patients complains of arthritic pain that is worsening. Her medication doesn't seem to be helping. Rita wonders whether massage therapy would present an effective means of treatment for her patient.

Before Rita can look for sources of literature on the subject, she needs to form a question that will:

  • Address all the elements of the problem
  • Yield relevant results

Constructing the Question using PICO

The PICO format helps you form an answerable questions that identifies the patient problem, the treatments or tests that are being considered, any alternative treatments or tests (if any), and the desired outcome of the treatment(s).

P = Patient or Problem: Who is your patient? What patient population do they belong to? Are there problems endemic to this population?

I = Intervention or Exposure: Which intervention or treatments are you going to research? What do you want for the patient (a prescription, a test, surgery, etc.)?

C = Comparison or Control: What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention? Is your patient already receiving an intervention? Or none at all (control)?

O = Outcome: What do you hope to accomplish, improve, or achieve? What are you trying to do for the patient?

Case Example Revisited

After assessing the problem and constructing a question using the PICO format, Rita comes up with the following question:

P = Geriatric patients with arthritic pain

I = Massage therapy

C = Patient's prescribed NSAID or similar anti-inflammatory drugs

O = Reduced arthritic pain

Complete clinical question: Do geriatric patients with arthritis who receive regular massage therapy have lessened arthritic pain compared to those that do not?

Another Example

Let's look at another example. You're working with an elderly client who is in a nursing home and experiencing social isolation. You're interested in exploring options to help them cope and connect with their loved ones. While doing some quick background research, you discover the potential for digital communication technology to have an impact on social isolation. Before you can proceed with this, you need to find evidence to support your decision, so forming a PICO question will help you effectively search for relevant literature.

Using what we know from our scenario, let's break it down:

  • P: nursing home residents (population) with social isolation (problem)
  • I: videoconference program with family (intervention to be explored)
  • C: normal family visitation at the nursing home (comparison to the new intervention)
  • O: lessened social isolation (our ideal outcome)

If we piece these components into a complete question, it might sound something like this:

Would a videoconference program (I) improve social isolation (O) amongst nursing home residents (P) compared with traditional visitation (C)?


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