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Cost consciousness has become increasingly important in anaesthesia as elsewhere in healthcare. Cost-minimization with uncompromised patient safety and quality requires systematic comparisons of alternative techniques. Inhalation anaesthesia with desflurane or sevoflurane is compared in this study with propofol delivered by the target controlled infusion technique. Directly measured drug consumption and costs and emergence times are compared.Consumed anaesthetics were measured during elective arthroscopy of the knee, and costs were calculated for ASA I-II patients (n = 102) randomized to 3 groups: one group received anaesthesia using propofol administered by target controlled infusion, the others inhalation anaesthesia with either desflurane or sevoflurane in combination with nitrous oxide. A partial rebreathing system was used with a laryngeal mask airway. Vaporizers were weighed before and after each anaesthetic.Anaesthetic duration, postoperative pain and emesis as well as discharge time did not differ between groups. Inhaled anaesthetic techniques with desflurane or sevoflurane were associated with 2-3 min shorter emergence times (P < 0.001) and approximately 45% lower cost for consumed anaesthetics as compared with a propofol technique based on target controlled infusion. The inclusion of waste costs improved the cost reduction to 55%.For this patient group, use of inhalation anaesthesia reduced drug costs by half and shortened emergence times compared to target controlled infusion with propofol with equal perioperative patient conditions.