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The development of preoperative clinics and the increasing importance of the anaesthetist in the management of surgical risk have expanded the concept of preoperative optimization. This review will focus on the rationale and process for cost-effective preoperative optimization.Postoperative morbidity, rather than mortality, is the most important surgical outcome in economic terms. Since preoperative comorbidity, in association with surgical complexity, is more predictive of hospital costs than the subsequent treatment of postoperative complications per se, preoperative optimization represents an appropriate economic target. Process management, including guidelines to reduce unnecessary investigations and specialist referrals and enhancing perioperative recovery, makes economical sense in the majority of patients who undergo noncardiac surgery with few complications. Preoperative optimization of a minority of high-risk surgical patients is also important given limited critical care resource. However, the evidence for specific optimization strategies in this latter group continues to evolve and requires further clarification in well designed trials.The requirement for appropriate methods of risk stratification of surgical patients targeted at the reduction of postoperative morbidity, underpins the development of cost-effective preoperative optimization. Specific process-based and clinical measures may then be applied to the development of individualized perioperative care packages.