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Formulating a Clinical Question: PICO


PICO is a popular framework for formulating clinical questions, especially those relating to therapy (or intervention) effectiveness.  It’s used to develop a well-built clinical question to aid in creating a search strategy. It helps identify searchable aspects of a situation in which a patient or population has a certain condition, and the outcome of interest is related to a therapy or intervention. 

PICO stands for:

  • P – Populations/People/Patient/Problem
  • I – Intervention(s)
  • C – Comparison (if any)
  • O – Outcome


Premature infants transition too early from the safety of the womb into the unprotected world of the NICU environment and are unable to handle many of the stimuli required to sustain life. Music therapy is an emerging intervention that may help stabilize the negative physiologic changes during exposure to stressors in the NICU.


For this scenario, we can build our PICO question like this:

P- premature infants in the NICU

I-  music therapy

C- no comparison (null comparison)

O- reduction of negative physiological responses (or any positive changes)

Using PICO, we can formulate a focused, answerable question:

“For premature infants in the NICU, does music therapy reduce negative physiological responses?”

Brown, D. (2020). A Review of the PubMed PICO Tool: Using Evidence-Based Practice in Health Education. Health Promotion Practice21(4), 496–498.