Ask Clinical Questions in PICOT Format

What is PICOT?

To formulate questions in Evidence Based Practice, use the PICOT format.  PICO is a mnemonic that helps one remember the key components of a well-focused question. 

PICOT stands for:

  • Population/ Patient Problem: Who is your patient? (disease or health status, age, race, sex)
  • Intervention: What do you plan to do for the patient? (specific tests, therapies, medications)
  • Comparison: What is the alternative to your plan? (i.e. No treatment, different type of treatment, etc.)
  • Outcome: What outcome do you seek? (less symptoms, no symptoms, full health, etc.)
  • Time:  What is the time frame? (This element is not always included.)

The chart below gives you an idea of how to format your clinical question: 

 Patient or Problem  Intervention  Comparison Intervention  Outcome
Description of the patient or the target disorder of interest Could include:
  • Exposure
  • Diagnostic test
  • Prognostic factor
  • Therapy
  • Patient perception etc.
Relevant most often when looking at therapy questions  Clinical outcome of interest to you and your patient 
Patient or Problem  Intervention  Comparison Intervention  Outcome
Bariatric adolescents considering or undergoing gastric bypass surgery. The nurse’s role as a primary member of the multidisciplinary team regarding perioperative care of the bariatric adolescent patient.  The nurse's role as a secondary member of the multidisciplinary team without any specialized training who is only involved in perioperative care of the bariatric adolescent patient. When the nurse is involved as one of the primary members in the multidisciplinary team approach, the bariatric adolescent patient has better continuity of care.


Oxford University offers help formulating answerable PICO questions as well as some examples.  


Your PICOT question will fall under one of these types:

  • Therapy/Prevention
  • Diagnosis
  • Etiology
  • Prognosis



Evidenced Based Medicine Information Literacy Modules

Unit 5:  Integrate the Evidence with Clinical Expertise & Patient
             Preferences and Values
Unit 6:  Evaluate the Outcomes of the Practice Decisions or
             Changes based on the Evidence
Unit 7:  Disseminate EBP Results

copyright 2014 Napa Valley College                                      Updated August 2014 
                                                                                              by Nancy McEnery, Reference Librarian-Instructor