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BMJ. 1995 Feb 18;310(6977):452-4.

The number needed to treat: a clinically useful measure of treatment effect.

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  • 1Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Waterloo, Canada.

Erratum in

  • BMJ 1995 Apr 22;310(6986):1056.


The relative benefit of an active treatment over a control is usually expressed as the relative risk, the relative risk reduction, or the odds ratio. These measures are used extensively in both clinical and epidemiological investigations. For clinical decision making, however, it is more meaningful to use the measure "number needed to treat." This measure is calculated on the inverse of the absolute risk reduction. It has the advantage that it conveys both statistical and clinical significance to the doctor. Furthermore, it can be used to extrapolate published findings to a patient at an arbitrary specified baseline risk when the relative risk reduction associated with treatment is constant for all levels of risk.

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