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Evidence Based Emergency Medicine: PICO

Focusing Clinical Questions

PICO is a format that helps construct an answerable questions and devise a strategy for searching for evidence. The PICO question has 4 parts. 

Information about the patient e.g. age, diagnosis, other important criteria

Treatment, exposure, diagnostic test


Comparison treatment, exposure, diagnostic test (usually gold standard)


What you are trying to measure or see improvement in.

PICO Example

Patient - adults with acute bronchitis

Intervention - antibiotics

Comparison - inhaled albuterol

Outcome - earlier improvement in clinical symptoms


Full PICO question:

Do adults with acute bronchitis who are treated with antibiotics have improved clinical symptoms earlier compared to those who are given inhaled albuterol? 

PICO tips

  • Be as specific as possible when constructing your question.
  • Although many questions are treatment questions, PICO questions can be constructed for diagnosis and other types of questions too.

More information about PICO