Sonoma State University
N 312C Baccalaureate Perspectives
Safety and Quality in Health Care

What is a PICOT Question?

The PICOT question format is a consistent "formula" for developing answerable, researchable questions. Writing these questions is deceptively simple! When you write a good one though it makes the rest of the process of finding and evaluating evidence much more straightforward. As strange as it sounds deciding what you are looking for related to your outcome can be one of the hardest parts! When you determine the outcome it helps you hone the process of searching for evidence. Remember evidence is not just what you want the outcome to be.. it is evaluating the evidence supporting or refuting what influences the outcome. If you are interested in getting to the heart of the effect of testing foley balloons on the rates of UTIs then you need to find evidence on the pros and cons of testing the balloon!

Question Templates for Asking PICO Questions:

P: Population/disease ( i.e. age, gender, ethnicity, with a certain disorder)

I: Intervention or Variable of Interest (exposure to a disease, risk behavior, prognostic factor)

C: Comparison: (could be a placebo or "business as usual" as in no disease, absence of risk factor, Prognostic factor B )

O: Outcome: (risk of disease, accuracy of a diagnosis, rate of occurrence of adverse outcome)

T: Time:

For an Intervention:

In _______(P), how does_______(I) compared to _______(C) affect _______ (O) within ______ (T)?

For etiology:

Are ____ (P) who have _______ (I) at ___ (Increased/decreased) risk for/of_______ (O) compared with ______ (P) with/without ______ (C)?

Diagnosis or diagnostic test:

Are (is) _________ (I) more accurate in diagnosing ________ (P) compared with ______ (C) for _______ (O) over ____ (T)?


For ________ (P) does the use of ______ (I) reduce the future risk of ________ (O) compared with _________ (C)?


Does __________ (I) influence ________ (O) in patients who have _______ (P)?


How do ________ (P) diagnosed with _______ (I) perceive ______ (O) during _____ (T)?

Based on Melnyk B. & Fineout-Overholt E. (2005). Evidence-based practice in nursing & healthcare. New York: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 Examples of Evidence-Based PICO Questions

1. Population: Bariatric adolescents undergoing gastric bypass surgery.

Intervention: The nurse’s role as a primary member of the multiprofessional team regarding perioperative care of the bariatric adolescent patient.

Comparison: The nurse's role as a secondary member of the multiprofessional team without any specialized training and is only involved in perioperative care of the bariatric adolescent patient.

Outcome: When the nurse is involved as one of the primary members in the multiprofessional team approach, the bariatric adolescent patient has better continuity of care.

Time: During perioperative hospitalization

PICOT Question: Does the bariatric adolescent patient undergoing gastric bypass have better continuity of care when the nurse is a primary member of the multiprofessional team versus when the nurse is a secondary member whose only role is in providing perioperative care and has no specialized training?

2. Therapy PICOT Question: An Intervention example: In adult patients with total hip replacements (Patient population) how effective is PCA pain medication (Intervention of interest) compared to prn IM pain medication (Comparison intervention) in controlling post operative pain (Outcome) within the first 24 hours after surgery? Note: The IM pain medication would be called the control group. It would be unethical to have a control group that received NO pain medication. Many times the control group means they get "business as usual!" or the current standard of care.

3. Therapy PICO Question: A non-intervention example: What is the duration of recovery (O) for patients with total hip replacement (P) who developed a post-operative infection (I) as opposed to those who did not (C)?

4.  Etiology PICO Question: Are kids (P) who have obese adoptive parents (I) at Increased risk for obesity (O) compared with kids (P) without obese adoptive parents (C)?

5. Diagnostic PICOT Question: Is a PKU test (I) done on two week old infants (P and T) more accurate in diagnosis inborn errors in metabolism (O) compared with PKU tests done at 24 hours of age (C and T)?

6. Prevention PICO Question: In OR nurses doing a five minute scrub (P) what are the differences in the presence and types of microbes (O) found on natural polished nails and nail beds (I) and artificial nails (C)?

7. Prognosis PICOT question: Does telelmonitoring blood pressure (I) in urban African Americans with hypertension (P) improve blood pressure control (O) during the first month of treatment (T)?

8. Meaning PICO Question: How do pregnant women (P) newly diagnosed with diabetes (I) perceive reporting their blood sugar levels (O) to their healthcare providers?









Jeanette Koshar, RN, NP, PhD
(707) 664-2649

Penny Applegarth RN, MSN, FNP
Office: (707) 522-2881