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NUR 2510: Evidence-Based Nursing Practice: Formulating Clinical Questions

Question Types

Background Questions
These are foundational questions about clinical issues best answered using a textbook or other reference source.
e.g. What is cancer cachexia and what is its pathophysiology?

Foreground Questions
These are questions that can be answered using the best current research.
e.g. Is a fish oil-enhanced nutritional supplement effective in stablizing weight in patients with advanced cancer?

Clinical Question

A well-built clinical question is specific to patient care and helps guide your search for evidence-based answers. There are generally four components of a good clinical question and they are represented by the acronym PICO.

P - Patient, population or problem of interest
I -  Intervention - therapy, diagnostic test, exposure, etc.
C - Comparison intervention or comparison of interest
O - Outcome(s) of interest


For example, you might start by wondering, Is Vitamin C more effective than echinacea in preventing the common cold? Restate your question in the PICO format to get a clinical answer

  • P - Adult with a cold
  • I Vitamin C
  • C - Echinacea
  • O - Prevention of cold

The PICO format will help you translate your question from an initial broad topic or a question specific to an individual patient's experience, to a concrete, objective question that you can find clinical evidence to answer.


Learn more:

Burns, P. B., & Chung, K. C. (2010). Developing good clinical questions and finding the best evidence to answer those questions. Plastic and reconstructive surgery, 126(2), 613–618. doi:10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181de24a7

PICO Tutorial

Clinical Question (PICO) Worksheet

Tutorial