Skip to Main Content

Forming Focused Questions with PICO: About PICO

Created by Health Science Librarians

What does PICO stand for?

PICO: Patient / Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome



Additional letters (for PICOT, PICOS, PICOTS, PICOTTS)

  • Timeframe
  • Type of study
  • Setting

The PICO Framework

This guide introduces the PICO question framework for evidence-based practice. It explores PICO’s history, purpose, and limitations. This guide also introduces other question frameworks and provides example questions from across many health professions.

PICO and Its History

PICO is an acronym used to remember the key components of a clinical question. Physicians first developed the PICO framework in evidence-based medicine as a way to address knowledge gaps during patient encounters. Questions could arise around a patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy, as well as around prevention strategies and patient education. Since then, PICO has become the most widely used question framework for evidence-based practice.

The Purpose of PICO

PICO is useful in academic and clinical settings. It can help you:

  • form a question that focuses on the most important issue for a patient or a population
  • identify key terms to use in a search for evidence
  • select results that directly relate to the situation

PICO has some limitations. The framework privileges interventions, experimental research, and dominant voices.

PICO's Limitations

Get help with your PICO

Other guides and tools: