PICOT research paper

What Are PICOT Questions?

PICOT is used to formulate questions in evidence-based practicePICOT questions help healthcare professionals provide the best possible care to patients. They offer a consistent formula for developing answerable, researchable questions, and they are a critical part of evidence-based nursing (EBN).

EBN is an approach to making quality decisions in patient care. It calls for the use of personal, clinical expertise in combination with the most current, relevant research available. Evidence-based nursing is implemented to improve patients’ health and safety, and to provide cost-effective care that offers the best results for patients and the healthcare system.

Dr. David Sackett, a pioneer in evidence-based practice (EBP), said the PICOT format, as it is used to formulate questions in EBP, is “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient. It means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.”

PICOT stands for:

Population/Patient Problem: Identify the patient and their situation. What is his or her disease, health status, age, race and gender?

Intervention: What is your plan for providing care to the patient? What tests, medications and treatments will you use?

Comparison: What other course of action could you take? Could you consider a different treatment or no treatment at all?

Outcome: What is the goal of your treatment? Do you seek fewer symptoms, an absence of symptoms, a return to full health?

Time: In what time frame do you see treatment taking place? Bear in mind that this element is not always included.

How Is PICOT Used?

Nurses use PICOT as a method for organizing a well-built and answerable clinical question. Writing a good PICOT question makes the process of finding and evaluating evidence more straightforward. It’s the first step toward finding relevant evidence that will guide you in the decisions you make about patient care.

Evidence provides you with the facts about what has occurred, such as the number of people who underwent a certain treatment and the outcome of that treatment. To find the right evidence, you must first frame a clinical question that matches your situation. Then you can locate the right evidence to answer your question.

Articulating a question using clinical cues leads to formulating a search strategy that will result in retrieving high-level information with a high degree of relevance. What makes a well-built clinical question? The question should directly pertain to the problem at hand. It should be focused, well-articulated and contain all five PICOT elements.

Why Do Nursing Programs Include PICOT Questions?

Learning to write well-structured PICOT questions is an important component of EBN. An article in Critical Care Nurse notes that many nurses rely on traditional methods when it comes to patient care rather than looking beyond established methods with EBN. The article states that EBN is associated with “higher quality care and better outcomes for patients than care that is steeped in tradition.”

In the article, Mary Beth Flynn Makic, a researcher at University of Colorado Hospital writes, “It is important for nurses to continually evaluate their practice to ensure that current best evidence is guiding practice interventions, rather than providing care based on tradition alone.”

The article goes on to state, “Nurses are the largest segment of the nation’s healthcare workforce practicing on the front lines with patients, making nurses vital to the translation of EBN as a practice norm. Nurses are in a position to critically evaluate and apply the evidence in daily practice to improve patients’ outcomes. Nurses need to stop using practice interventions that are based solely on tradition.”

Part of the online Evidence-Based Practice RN course in the Columbus State online program focuses on PICOT questions. An RN to BSN degree from Columbus State’s online program can help healthcare practitioners develop well-constructed PICOT questions.

Coursework focused on evidence-based practice helps students become more knowledgeable users of research information. It also helps increase their capacity to apply evidence, professional experience and patient preferences in their practices. Those pursuing an RN to BSN degree study research design, appraisal of selected nursing studies, and the identification and search of PICOT questions. With proper preparation, students can develop their ability to write effective PICOT questions, which can provide a strong foundation in EBN.


  1. PICOT Example 1
  2. PICOT Example 2
  3. PICOT Example 3
  4. PICOT Example 4
  5. PICOT Example 5