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Although prophylactic administration of antiemetics reduces the incidence of postoperative nausea, vomiting, or both (PONV), there is little evidence to suggest this improves patient outcomes. The authors hypothesized that early symptomatic treatment of PONV will result in outcomes, including time to discharge, unanticipated admission, patient satisfaction, and time to return to normal daily activities, that are similar to those achieved with routine prophylaxis.Men and women (n = 575) scheduled for outpatient surgery during general anesthesia were randomized to receive either 4 mg intravenous ondansetron or placebo before operation and either 1 mg intravenous ondansetron or placebo if postoperative symptomatic treatment of PONV was necessary. Patients were stratified into subgroups by risk factors for PONV.No differences occurred in the time to discharge, rate of unanticipated admission, or time to return to normal activity between the prophylaxis and treatment groups. The reported level of satisfaction with control of PONV was 93% in the treatment arm and 97% in the prophylaxis arm, which fall within the limits defined a priori as clinically equivalent. Female patients with a history of motion sickness or PONV who were undergoing highly emetogenic procedures had a higher reported level of satisfaction with prophylaxis than with treatment (100% vs. 90%, P = 0.043); however, the level of satisfaction with the overall outpatient surgical experience was not different.Although PONV is unpleasant, the data indicate little difference in outcomes when routine prophylactic medications are administered versus simply treating PONV should symptoms occur.