The use of percentage change from baseline as an outcome in a controlled trial is statistically inefficient: a simulation study

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2001:1:6. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-1-6. Epub 2001 Jun 28.


Background: Many randomized trials involve measuring a continuous outcome - such as pain, body weight or blood pressure - at baseline and after treatment. In this paper, I compare four possibilities for how such trials can be analyzed: post-treatment; change between baseline and post-treatment; percentage change between baseline and post-treatment and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with baseline score as a covariate. The statistical power of each method was determined for a hypothetical randomized trial under a range of correlations between baseline and post-treatment scores.

Results: ANCOVA has the highest statistical power. Change from baseline has acceptable power when correlation between baseline and post-treatment scores is high;when correlation is low, analyzing only post-treatment scores has reasonable power. Percentage change from baseline has the lowest statistical power and was highly sensitive to changes in variance. Theoretical considerations suggest that percentage change from baseline will also fail to protect from bias in the case of baseline imbalance and will lead to an excess of trials with non-normally distributed outcome data.

Conclusions: Percentage change from baseline should not be used in statistical analysis. Trialists wishing to report this statistic should use another method, such as ANCOVA, and convert the results to a percentage change by using mean baseline scores.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Research Design / statistics & numerical data
  • Software / statistics & numerical data