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What is PICO?

PICO is a way to frame your research questions with effective searching in mind. It allows you to pull key terms/concepts out to focus your search. PICO stands for:

  • Patient/Problem
  • Intervention
  • Comparison
  • Outcome

Occasionally you will also see:

  • T for Time element

Check mark icon.Quick Tip: Start with Patient/Problem and Intervention in your initial search and you can look for the Comparison and Outcome when you browse abstracts and full text articles. If you are getting a large amount of articles in this initial search you can of course add the additional factors, but many times adding the Comparison and Outcome too early can lead to elimination of important resources.

Example of a PICO Question

Let's work though a scenario with PICO. Let's say:

You are a community pharmacist and a patient has an 11 year old boy with asthma. The parent has been told that the child should take inhaled steroids or corticosteroids but has heard that this can slow bone growth. The parent asks your advice as to whether their child should use the inhaled corticosteroids and if it will really impact their son's growth.

The first step to an evidence-based approach is to break this down into a PICO question: In preadolescents with asthma will inhaled corticosteroids suppress normal growth (as compared to treatment without corticosteroids)?


  • Patient/Problem: preadolescents with asthma
  • Intervention: inhaled corticosteroids
  • Comparison: treatment without corticosteroids
  • Outcome: growth at predicted rate

How to Search Using PICO

Now that you know what PICO is, see Creating an Effective Search to find out how to search a database or search engine most effectively to find your evidence-based resources.

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