Seven Steps to the Perfect PICO Search

Research | Kathy A. Jensen| January 09, 2018

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Explore how utilizing the PICO search strategy promotes evidence-based nursing practice and streamlines nursing research.

Searching for high-quality clinical research evidence can be a daunting task to many in the healthcare arena, yet it is an integral part of evidence-based nursing practice. Depending on your role in the clinical environment — librarian, nurse or student nurse — you may possess some of the skills needed, but not all. For example, librarians are generally well-versed in conducting literature reviews but may be unfamiliar with using the PICO search strategy to facilitate their literature search. Staff nurses generally understand the key concepts of evidence-based nursing practice but might lack basic literature searching skills. Student nurses learn about the importance of evidence-based nursing practice in school; however, until they become practicing nurses, they might not fully understand the correlation between evidence-based interventions and improved patient outcomes.

One way to streamline the nursing research process for nurses and researchers of all backgrounds is to utilize the PICO search strategy. PICO is a format for developing a good clinical research question prior to starting one’s research. It is a mnemonic used to describe the four elements of a sound clinical foreground question. (Yale University’s Cushing/Whitney Medical Library). The question needs to identify the key problem of the patient, what intervention or treatment you are considering for the patient, what alternative intervention or treatment is being considered (if any) and what is the desired outcome to promote or avoid. These make up the four elements of the PICO model: Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome.

PICO is a format for developing a good clinical research question prior to starting one’s research.

The PICO process starts with a case scenario from which a question is constructed that is relevant to the case and is phrased in such a way as to facilitate finding an answer. Once a well-structured question is formulated, researchers will be in a better position to search the literature for evidence that will support their original PICO question.

To explore a step-by-step guide to formulating an optimal PICO search, download our free white paper, Evidence-based Nursing Practice: Seven Steps to the Perfect PICO Search.

Download White Paper

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Kathy A. Jensen
MHA, RN - Medical Client Services Manager

Kathy serves as the Medical Client Services Manager for EBSCO Health and is responsible for medical/nursing point-of-care database customer education and training. She works directly with nursing and physician leadership to integrate clinical decision support and evidence-based practice into their workflows. Kathy has more than 25 years of experience in healthcare management/operations and medical information technology. Read Kathy’s Full Bio »

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