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NSG 607 - Evidence-Based Practice

A course guide to assist NSG 607 students with their research using library resources.

Searchable Questions

In EBP, clinical questions are asked in PICOT format (i.e., Patient population, Intervention or Issue of Interest, Comparison intervention or group, Outcome, and Time frame) to yield the most relevant and best evidence. 

Good Clinical Questions

Formulating Answerable Clinical Questions is the Foundation of EBP!

Every time we see a patient, we need new information about some element of the diagnosis, prognosis or management. Because our time to try to find this information is often limited, we need to be very efficient in our searching. To achieve this efficiency, we need to become skilled at formulating clinical questions.

  1. Start with the patient: clinical problems and questions arise out of patient care
  2. Translate the clinical questions into a searchable question using PICOT
  3. Decide on the best type of study to address the question
  4. Perform a literature search in the appropriate source(s)

Is your clinical question answerable?

  • "What is the best treatment for recurrent UTI in children?" is so broad that a meaningful answer is difficult to find due to the large number of articles you may retrieve addressing many possible treatments and clinical outcomes. 
  • "In children with recurrent UTI, is cranberry juice effective in reducing the number of recurrences?" is more focused and will lead to a doable search strategy. 

Express your clinical question in the PICO format

  • P - Patient or Population AND Problem
  • I - Intervention: a treatment, a diagnostic test, an exposure to a known or presumed risk factor, etc.
  • C - Comparison: treatment, placebo, gold standard diagnostic test, absence of risk factor, etc. 
  • O - Clinical outcome of interest
  • T - Time frame it should take you to determine whether your interventions had any affect or Type of Question Asked

The PICOT terms come from and should match your clinical question. 

Two additional elements of the well-built clinical question are the type of question and the type of study. This information can be helpful in focusing the question and determining the most appropriate type of evidence or study.

For a definition on study types see the Useful Definitions Tab on the EBP Page here:

Common Question Types


Type of Study

THERAPY (treatment)

How to select treatments that do more good than harm and that are worth the efforts and costs of using them

Example of a Therapy Question

  • Most frequently asked.
  • Questions about the effectiveness of interventions in improving outcomes in sick patients and patients suffering from some condition.
  • Clinician treatments are most likely medications, surgical procedures, exercise, counseling about lifestyle changes.

Randomized controlled trial, cohort study


How to select and interpret diagnostic tests

Example of a Diagnosis Question

  • Questions about the ability of a test or procedure to differentiate between those with and without a condition or disease.

Prospective, blind comparison to a gold standard or cross-sectional

PROGNOSIS (forecast)

How to estimate the patient’s likely clinical course over time (based on factors other than the intervention) and anticipate likely complications of disease

Example of a Prognosis Question

  • Questions about the probable cause of a patient’s disease or the likelihood that s/he will develop an illness.

Cohort study, case control, case series

HARM/ETIOLOGY (causation)

How to identify causes for disease (including iatrogenic forms)

Example of an Etiology Question

  • Questions about the harmful effect of an intervention or exposure on a patient.

Cohort study, case control, case series


Adapted from: Fineout-Overholt, E. & Johnston, L. (2005), Teaching EBP: asking searchable, answerable clinical questions. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, 2, 157–160. doi: