Accurate assessment of precision errors: how to measure the reproducibility of bone densitometry techniques

Osteoporos Int. 1995;5(4):262-70. doi: 10.1007/BF01774016.


Assessment of precision errors in bone mineral densitometry is important for characterization of a technique's ability to detect longitudinal skeletal changes. Short-term and long-term precision errors should be calculated as root-mean-square (RMS) averages of standard deviations of repeated measurements (SD) and standard errors of the estimate of changes in bone density with time (SEE), respectively. Inadequate adjustment for degrees of freedom and use of arithmetic means instead of RMS averages may cause underestimation of true imprecision by up to 41% and 25% (for duplicate measurements), respectively. Calculation of confidence intervals of precision errors based on the number of repeated measurements and the number of subjects assessed serves to characterize limitations of precision error assessments. Provided that precision error are comparable across subjects, examinations with a total of 27 degrees of freedom result in an upper 90% confidence limit of +30% of the mean precision error, a level considered sufficient for characterizing technique imprecision. We recommend three (or four) repeated measurements per individual in a subject group of at least 14 individuals to characterize short-term (or long-term) precision of a technique.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / methods
  • Absorptiometry, Photon / standards*
  • Bone Density / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results