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Medical Research Guide

Research Process Guide

What is a Clinical (Or Research) Question?

A clinical question is the foundation of a quality article or paper. Good clinical questions are both detailed and succinct and frame the question in such a way that it can be answered effectively. Clinical questions are patient-focused. The PICO acronym describes the components of an effective clinical question.

P  Patient  (Who is the patient?  For example, "a middle aged female with hypertension")

I  Intervention (What is the treatment being considered?)

C Comparison (To what is the treatment or course of action being compared?)

O Outcome (What is the desired result?  For example "improved quality of life" or "pain reduction."

Sometimes you will see the acronym variation PICOTS. T stands for timing, such as does the dosage timing or interval make a difference. S stands for setting, which refers to the location in which the intervention takes place (for example, outpatient clinic, workplace, hospital, etc.).

Examples of Clinical Questions

Would you like to see examples of a good clinical question? Take a look at these POEMS (Essential Evidence that Matters) in Essential Evidence Plus. To get started, click a year or click the link to the archive at the bottom left of the Essential Evidence Plus POEMS page.

Some resources have filters that make it easy to search with PICO. To see one, visit TRIP (Turning Research Into Practice). PubMed4Hh (PubMed for Handhelds) also offers PICO searching--you can find it in your app store and download it to your phone or mobile device.

Translating Your Clinical Question into Searchable Terms

Once you have decided upon a clinical question, take a moment to consider

1.  Possible synonyms for terms used in the question.

2.  What type of literature do you want?

3.  How recent should the information be?

4.  Are there terms you want to exclude?

5.   Are you looking for a particular time frame? (5 years back, last two years only, etc.)

6.   Do you want to limit your search to a particular type of patient? (male/female, age, ethnicity, etc.)

7.     Is timing or setting or geographic location important?  (Giving patients medication in morning vs evening, assisted living
      facilities, North Carolina, etc.)