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Search Tips

Search Tips and Examples

Ask a good clinical question by formulating your information need as a PICO search.


PICO stands for...

  • Patient or Population or Problem 
    • Describe the characteristic of the patient/population/problem
    • What is the problem, disease, or condition?
    • What demographics are important for this case - age, ethnicity, gender?
  • Intervention
    • What is the specific treatment, medication, procedure, diagnostic test, prognostic factor, exposure?
  • Comparison
    • Are you comparing to another intervention?
  • Outcome
    • What is the outcome you want to look at?  These could be patient-oriented outcomes such as quality of life, measures such as lab values, or other qualitative or quantitative outcomes.

Case: Your patient is a 55 year old woman. She was diagnosed with osteoporosis based on the results of her DEXA (bone density scan). She is 5'1" and weighs 90 lbs. Her medical history is remarkable only for 2 normal pregnancies and menopause at age 53. She is not a smoker or a drinker of alcohol. Her mother also had osteoporosis and passed away at age 87. . . .  Your patient is reluctant to take a treatment drug because she prefers natural approaches. She asks if she could delay taking a drug for now, and try natural approaches such as calcium, vitamin D, weight-bearing exercises, etc. to see if that helps stop the progression of her osteoporosis.


Patient or Problem 55 year old woman with osteoporosis
Intervention Drug treatment - bisphosphonates
Comparison Natural treatments - calcium, vitamin D, exercise
Outcome Prevent further bone loss


Based on the table above, our clinical question is: For a 55 year old woman with osteoporosis, is a regimen of calcium, vitamin D, and/or weight bearing exercise as effective as treatment with bisphosponates in preventing additional bone loss?

Example search topic: postmenopausal osteoporosis treatment: bisphosphonates vs. natural treatments

Step One: Key Concepts

ID the key concepts of your question, in this case—

  • postmenopausal osteoporosis
  • bisphosphonates
  • natural treatments

Step Two: Related Terms

Come up with related terms for each key concept.
TIP! Use the UT Libraries Generate Keywords tool to create search strategies like the one below.

Use truncation to search for terms that begin with a word root.

As an example, osteoporo*

will search for

osteoporosis, osteoporoses, osteoporotic, osteoporotically...

Step Three: Combine and Search!

First, search each key concept separately (lines #1, #2, #3). Consult the database’s search history to see how many hits your terms produce. Big numbers are your friend. If there are too few hits for a key concept, add more synonyms or some broader terms. If there are too many hits, remove terms and/or use narrower terms.

Then combine search lines, as shown (lines #4, #5).

MeSH on Demand Search Example

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