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Physical Therapy

Library Tutorials

The following links will assist you in understanding how to access materials through the Health Sciences Library website

Best Bets

Evidence-Based Practice Searching

This guide references VCU Libraries' "Evidence-Based Practice" research guide. Be sure to visit this guide via the links on this page to review the resources that will help you navigate the evidence-based process:


An evidence-based question asks what evidence is available to determine if your current method is following best practices. This follows a process of distinguishing between your background and foreground questions. Choosing the correct library resource for the question begins at even this stage, as some resources are better suited for background questions while others are used to answer the foreground questions.

As with other research projects, you will break up your question into concepts. For evidence-based practice questions, this process includes the PICO format:

Patient population/Problem How would I describe a group of patients similar to mine?
Intervention Which main intervention, exposure, or prognostic factor am I considering?
Comparison What is the main alternative (if applicable) to compare with the intervention?
Outcomes What can I hope to accomplish, measure, improve, affect?

Identifying the type of question you're asking is important because:

  • You identify the research methodology
  • You can select the best resource to answer your question
  • You can determine the best filters for your question
  • You can critically appraise the evidence based on appropriateness and rigor

Question Type and Type of Evidence Table

Furthermore, if you are familiar with type of literature available in certain evidence-based resources, you can determine which of these to search to answer your question.

  • PubMed: the premier biomedical database for most life sciences literature, from systematic reviews and randomized control trials to case studies and reviews and online books.
  • PubMed Clinical Queries: a tool of PubMed that allows you to filter by clinical study, systematic reviews, and medical genetics articles.
  • CINAHL: an allied health database that accesses allied health literature, including periodicals and care sheets.
  • Cochrane: the gold standard for systematic reviews and clinical trials.

The next steps in your search process will be:

  • Consider all the relevant terminology needed to describe the elements of your PICO question;
  • Use Boolean operators (OR, AND) to combine your search terms;
  • Search more than one database;
  • Filter the search results according to which study type you need to answer your question.

The "evidence-based pyramid" is a good guide for determining which studies are designed to be the most rigorous, thus decreasing bias. Even then, you still need to evaluate the methodology to determine how rigorously the study was performed. 

Evidence Based Practice Pyramid