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Pre-Clerkship Library Resources

The information resources you need for medical school

Literature Search Strategies

Think about your core concepts. Keep search terms simple at first, and pay attention to keywords and other terms you see referenced in relevant articles. Check the MeSH terms/subject headings in databases to find relevant terms. You can use new terms you find as you read to revise your search.

PICO Framework

Framework: Think About Example
Patient Problem (or Population) What are the most important characteristics of the patient or population? This should include the primary problem, disease, or co-existing conditions. You might also include demographics such as age, gender and ethnicity, socioeconomic status or other demographic variables. adult male with high blood pressure; mostly sedentary lifestyle
Intervention/Exposure What type of intervention is being considered? A medication, exercise, or education, rest? Or what is the exposure being considered? increased physical activity
Comparison or Control Is there a comparison treatment to be considered? The comparison may be with another medication, another form of treatment, or no treatment at all. no increase in physical activity
Outcome What would be the desired effect you would like to see? What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve or affect? sustained lowering of blood pressure to normal range

Writing Your Question

Patient Problem or Population Intervention/Exposure Comparison/Control Outcome
Children with Obestiy Community Recreation Activities compared to educational programs on lifestyle changes reduce risk of Diabetes Mellitus
Do Adults Who Binge Drink none (or compared with those who don't) Have a higher risk for mortality
In the United States does Climate Change   Increase the spread of vector-borne diseases


PEO Framework

The PEO question format is useful for qualitative research topics.

PEO questions identify three concepts: population, exposure, and outcome.

PEO Definition Example
Population Who is my question focused on? mothers
Exposure What is the issue I'm interested in? postnatal depression
Outcome What, in relation to the issue, do I want to examine? daily living experiences

Research question: What are the daily living experiences of mothers with postnatal depression?

Question and Study Types

Type of Question

Type of Study

Therapy - determine the effect of interventions on patient outcomes. Fora disease or condition, will the treatment do more good than harm?

Systematic Review


Prognosis - Estimating a patient's likely course over timedue to factors other than interventions. What are the likely complications of a particular disease or condition?


Cohort Study

Case-Control Study

Harm/Etiolgy - What are the effects of of potentially harmful agents of patient-important outcomes. Does this exposure cause the disease?

Case-Control study

Cohort Study

RCT- depending on the intervention, some may be unethical to deliberately expose patients to harm

Diagnosis - Establishing accuracy of a diagnostic test to differentiate between those with and without a target condition or disease.

Prospective, blind comparison to a gold standard

Cross-sectional Study

Prevention - How to reduce the change of a disease by identifying and modifying risk factors. How to diagnose early with screening. Will the chosen preventative measure eliminate or reduce the chances of developing the disease or condition?

Systematic Review