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Evidence Based Practice Tutorial: P I C O (T)

The EBP Process

1. Ask: Ask a clinical question using the P I C O (T) format.2. Acquire: Acquire clinical evidence using EBP resources.

P I C O (T)

The table below outlines the how to break down the elements of your clinical question.

Element of the Question


(patient, problem, or population)




(comparison (optional))



Describe as accurately as possible the patient or group of patients of interest

What is the main intervention or therapy you wish to consider? Including an exposure to disease, a diagnostic test, a prognostic factor, a treatment, a patient perception, a risk factor, etc.

Is there an alternative treatment to compare? Including no disease, placebo, a different prognostic factor, absence of risk factor, etc.

What is the clinical outcome, including a time horizon if relevant?

Example A

In patients with acute bronchitis,

do antibiotics...


reduce sputum production, cough or days off?

Example B

Among family-members of patients undergoing diagnostic procedures

does standard care,

or listening to tranquil music, or audio taped comedy routines...

make a difference in the reduction of reported anxiety.

Searching with Time (T)

Sometimes, the length of the intervention will be an important part of your clinical question. For example:

  • Does (I) nicotine gum help (P) smokers (O) quit smoking more effectively than (C) hypnosis over the course of (T) four weeks?

Take Note: Including time as an element of your search can be a particular challenge. There is no set unit for measuring time in clinical experiments. If you search for an experiment that ran for 1 month, you will miss experiments that ran for 4 weeks or 30 days. You may need to run multiple searches using different terms for your period of time, or you may need to costruct a more complex search using Boolean operators.


Can you find...

PubMed Medline



Evidence based research

Yes! The Clinical Queries page provides PubMed specialized searches. Search…

  • by clinical study category

  • for systematic review

  • for medical genetics

Yes! There is a limit on the Advanced Search screen for Evidence-based Practice.


Links to research in Medline

Patient education / Health Promotion material

Yes!  There are subject headings [MeSH terms] for…

  • “patient education”

  • “health promotion”

  • other related concepts

Yes!   There are CINAHL subject headings for…

  • “patient education”

  • “health promotion”

  • other related concepts


Reliable, ad free health information is the main focus of MedlinePlus.  

Can you…

Save Searches

Yes!  The MyNCBI feature can save searches and citations.

Yes!  The MyEbsco feature can save searches.

See email alerts

Get email alerts

Yes!  with the MyNCBI feature

Yes!  with the MyEbsco feature


Export citations to RefWorks




Get RSS feeds




Can you follow on…                                                                                                                                                                       









Build a better search

Boolean operators are special words that you can use to combine your search terms to create a more effective search.

Sports and women

sports or women

sports not women

Check out this video to see Boolean Operators in action.