AIM: To establish, via computer simulation, the effects of patient response variability and staircase starting level upon the accuracy and repeatability of static full threshold visual field tests. METHOD: Patient response variability, defined by the standard deviation of the frequency of seeing versus stimulus intensity curve, is varied from 0.5 to 20 dB (in steps of 0.5 dB) with staircase starting levels ranging from 30 dB below to 30 dB above the patient's threshold (in steps of 10 dB). Fifty two threshold estimates are derived for each condition and the error of each estimate calculated (difference between the true threshold and the threshold estimate derived from the staircase procedure). The mean and standard deviation of the errors are then determined for each condition. The results from a simulated quadrantic defect (response variability set to typical values for a patient with glaucoma) are presented using two different algorithms. The first corresponds with that normally used when performing a full threshold examination while the second uses results from an earlier simulated full threshold examination for the staircase starting values. RESULTS: The mean error in threshold estimates was found to be biased towards the staircase starting level. The extent of the bias was dependent upon patient response variability. The standard deviation of the error increased both with response variability and staircase starting level. With the routinely used full threshold strategy the quadrantic defect was found to have a large mean error in estimated threshold values and an increase in the standard deviation of the error along the edge of the defect. When results from an earlier full threshold test are used as staircase starting values this error and increased standard deviation largely disappeared. CONCLUSION: The staircase procedure widely used in threshold perimetry increased the error and the variability of threshold estimates along the edges of defects. Using earlier data, when available, overcomes this problem and reduces examination time.
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