Open Access Research article

A look at the potential association between PICOT framing of a research question and the quality of reporting of analgesia RCTs

Victoria Borg Debono12, Shiyuan Zhang2, Chenglin Ye2, James Paul1, Aman Arya4, Lindsay Hurlburt5, Yamini Murthy1 and Lehana Thabane23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesia, McMaster University, 2U1-1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada

2 Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada

3 Biostatistics Unit, Father Sean O’Sullivan Research Centre, 3rd Floor Martha, Room H325, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, 50 Charlton Avenue East, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 4A6, Canada

4 Department of Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine, University of Western Ontario, 339 Windermere Road, London, Ontario N6G 2 K3, Canada

5 Department of Anesthesia, University of Toronto, Room 121, Fitzgerald Building, 150 College Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E2, Canada

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BMC Anesthesiology 2013, 13:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2253-13-44

Published: 19 November 2013



Methodologists have proposed the formation of a good research question to initiate the process of developing a research protocol that will guide the design, conduct and analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and help improve the quality of reporting such studies. Five constituents of a good research question based on the PICOT framing include: Population, Intervention, Comparator, Outcome, and Time-frame of outcome assessment. The aim of this study was to analyze if the presence a structured research question, in PICOT format, in RCTs used within a 2010 meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of femoral nerve blocks after total knee arthroplasty, is independently associated with improved quality of reporting.


Twenty-three RCT reports were assessed for the quality of reporting and then examined for the presence of the five constituents of a structured research question based on PICOT framing. We created a PICOT score (predictor variable), with a possible score between 0 and 5; one point for every constituent that was included. Our outcome variable was a 14 point overall reporting quality score (OQRS) and a 3 point key methodological items score (KMIS) based on the proper reporting of allocation concealment, blinding and numbers analysed using the intention-to-treat principle. Both scores, OQRS and KMIS, are based on the Consolidated Standards for Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement. A multivariable regression analysis was conducted to determine if PICOT score was independently associated with OQRS and KMIS.


A completely structured PICOT score question was found in 2 of the 23 RCTs evaluated. Although not statistically significant, higher PICOT was associated with higher OQRS [IRR: 1.267; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.984, 1.630; p = 0.066] but not KMIS (1.061 (0.515, 2.188); 0.872). These results are comparable to those from a similar study in terms of the direction and range of IRRs estimates. The results need to be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample size.


This study showed that PICOT framing of a research question in anesthesia-related RCTs is not often followed. Even though a statistically significant association with higher OQRS was not found, PICOT framing of a research question is still an important attribute within all RCTs.