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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 in the NICU face challenges related to their physiological and behavioral development due to their early arrival. As a NICU nurse, you and your team are interested in exploring non-pharmacological interventions to support these infants' growth and development while reducing their stress and discomfort. There is a growing interest in music therapy as an intervention, as it has shown promise in other healthcare settings. You're interested in finding out if there is evidence in the study literature to support using music therapy in this situation.


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- Improvement in physiological and behavioral responses


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

"In premature infants in the NICU (P), does the implementation of music therapy (I) lead to significant improvements in physiological and/or behavioral responses (O)?"

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