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Systematic Reviews - Research Guide

Clinical Questions

The Clinical Question

Clinical questions frequently occur in clinical practice; while some can be easily answered, others are more complex and 
require examination of the research evidence using systematic reviews and other methodologies .

A clinical question needs to be directly relevant to the patient or problem and phrased in a way that facilitates the search for an answer. A clear and focused question is more likely to lead to a credible and useful answer, but a poorly formulated question can lead to an uncertain answer and create confusion.

The population and intervention should be specific but if any or both are described too narrowly, it may be difficult to find relevant studies or sufficient data to demonstrate a reliable answer.

Types of Clinical Questions


Question Type Explanation Evidence types required to answer the question
Therapy (Treatment) Questions about the effectiveness of interventions in improving outcomes in  patients suffering from an illness, disease or condition. The most frequently asked type of clinical question. Treatments may include  medications, surgical procedures, exercise, and counseling about lifestyles changes. Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT)
Prevention Questions about the effectiveness of an intervention or exposure in preventing morbidity and mortality. Similar to treatment questions. When assessing preventive measures, it is particularly important to evaluate potential harms as well as benefits. RCT or Prospective Study
Diagnosis Questions about the ability of a test or procedure to differentiate between those with and without a disease or condition. RCT or Cohort Study
Prognosis (Forecast) Questions about the probable cause of a patient's disease or the likelihood that he or she will develop an illness. Cohort Study and/or Case-Control Series
Etiology (Causation) Questions about the harmful effect of an intervention or exposure on a patient. Cohort Study
Meaning Questions about patients' experiences and concerns. Qualitative Study