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Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): Search Strategies


PICO is a useful way of formulating clinical research questions and a well-build question or problem should include the four components of the model: Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome

PICO Linguist is a tool from the NLM that lets you search for research with terms that incorporate the PICO model. Using it, you can limit your search results to certain types of studies (clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, etc.) or to practice guidelines. 


Patient/Problem   Describe the patient.  Important descriptors might include: age and gender.  Then describe the problem the patient is experiencing.  For example, you might say, "A four-year-old boy with asthma"
Intervention Describe the treatment you are considering for the patient.  This may be a drug, such as "theophylline" for the child with asthma
Comparison Ask yourself what main alternative therapy exists for the problem.  Example: "inhaled glucocorticosteroids"
Outcome Ask yourself what result you want to see because of the therapy.  Example: "decreased hospitalizations and school abscences"


Medical Subject Headings (MeSH terms) are categories applied by the National Library of Medicine to describe what medical publications are about

Using them can help you focus your database search to articles that address your research topic.  This video from the UAB Lister Hill Library shows how to choose MeSH terms in PubMed.  


Search more effectively and efficiently by using the tools and limiters that are part of each database, including these:  

Publication Date:  When doing research for EBM, you usually limit your search to articles from the last 3-5 years.


Publication Type: Limit your search to certain kinds of articles or research.  Other options besides those shown here include comparative studies, systematic reviews, and randomized controlled trials.


Reviews:  These present authors' findings after they have reviewed multiple previously-published research articles and can provide valuable information about trends in a field.  


Age Groups:  Limit by patient characteristics including age and sex.