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Medical Scholarship: Getting Started

A handy guide for your medical scholarship adventures

Asking the Right Questions

Before you look for an answer, take a moment to decide what kind of question you are asking. 

Biomedical questions can be broken down into categories.

  • Background - Information about the problem itself, which will give you a good hint as to where to go for more specific information.
  • Clinical - Clinical questions can be broken down further into: etiology, diagnosis, therapy, prognosis, and clinical prediction 
  • Diagnostic - (sometimes placed under clinical) this is where you look at what tests to order and what lab results are important.  This is also where Physical & History come in as well as DDX or Differential Diagnosis (Learn about PICO below.)
  • Drug related - Drug and pharmaceutical resources as well as tests and procedures information

If you take a moment to decide what kind of question you want to ask...

  • You will be able to eliminate resources right away
  • You will know where to look first
  • You will find the answer faster. 

PICO LibGuide & Tutorial

A PICO LibGuide has been created to dive further into this topic.  The LibGuide will both explain and show you how to frame your topic and help you create excellent, focused research questions.

PICO - a tool to help you answer clinical questions

What is PICO?

PICO is an acronym for Patient, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome.  It is a framework that allows a clinician to break down a clinical problem into a question that can be answered in the Clinical Questions section of the algorithm.  The questions come from clinical encounters with patients.  Once a question is place into the PICO format a practitioner will be able to determine what kind of clinical question and rank the evidence so she can look for the highest level of quality information to answer it. PICO was developed as a way to focus a clinician’s thoughts, allowing them to create a clinical question that can be answered with evidence and clinical knowledge.  A practitioner turns a clinical encounter into a question by breaking down the clinical fact into the PICO format.

Clinical Encounter - A mother brings in her 6 month old child for an evaluation after the boy experienced a fever induced seizure.  She has heard that this means he is now at higher risk for developing epilepsy and asks you, "Is that true?"

For this example the PICO is as follows

Patient-(describe the patient including unique characters) 6 months old

Intervention-(what is the thing that is different, [the therapy, the test, the condition,] about this patient) febrile seizure

Comparison – (what are you comparing the intervention to, the gold standard, standard of care or is there no comparison) 6 months old without seizure

Outcome – (what is the outcome you are looking for or looking to avoid) Development of epilepsy

In this case the PICO question could be, “In 6 month old children do febrile seizures increase the risk of epilepsy later on in life?”

This is a prognosis question.  Other types of clinical questions are therapy, diagnosis, etiology and clinical prediction.