The PICO model as search strategy tool

By Mette Brandt Eriksen & Tove Faber Fransen

Published in Journal of the Medical Library Association vol 106, No 4 (2018) DOI: 10.5195/jmla.2018.345

The systematic review The impact of patient, intervention, comparison, outcome (PICO) as a search strategy tool on literature search quality: a systematic review aimed to determine, if the widely used conceptualizing model, PICO (patient, intervention, comparison, outcome) affects the quality of a literature search, when used as a search strategy tool.
The PICO model is often used to structure research questions that forms the basis for e.g. systematic reviews and in addition as a tool to develop search strategies. There are, however, no studies that have investigated, if the PICO model improves the quality of literature searches. In order to investigate this, a literature search was conducted in PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA), Scopus, and the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Reference lists were scrutinized, and citation searches were performed on the included studies. The primary outcome was the quality of literature searches and the secondary outcome was time spent on the literature search when the PICO model was used as a search strategy tool, compared to the use of another conceptualizing tool or unguided searching. A total of 2,163 records were identified, and finally three studies that investigated the PICO model were included in a qualitative analysis. The included studies compared the PICO model to other models (the PIC truncation or links to related articles in PubMed; the PICOS model and the SPIDER model). One study compared PICO to unguided searching. Only few studies exist that assess the effect of the PICO model vis-a-vis other available models or even vis-a-vis the use of no model. Before implications for current practice can be drawn, well-designed studies are needed to evaluate the role of the tool used to devise a search strategy.

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