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BMJ. 1996 February 17; 312(7028): 426–429.
PMCID: PMC2350093

The number needed to treat: a clinically useful nomogram in its proper context.


The number needed to treat is a meaningful way of expressing the benefit of an active treatment over a control. It can be used either for summarising the results of a therapeutic trial or for medical decision making about an individual patient, but its use at the bedside has been impeded by the need for time consuming calculations. A nomogram has therefore been devised that will greatly simplify the calculations. Since calculations are now easy, the number needed to treat can be used to access the value of several interventions, although it does have its limitations. In particular it should not be used when it is not known whether the relative risk reduction associated with an intervention is constant for all levels of risk, or for periods of time longer than that studied in the original trials.

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