Cost Of Volatile Inhalation Anesthetics Biology Essay


Inhalation anesthetics are used millions of times every single day in surgeries requiring general anesthesia all over the world. Cost containment is anesthesia is no longer an option, it is an absolute necessity. Anesthetic drugs account for up to 6 percent of total hospital pharmacy costs and inhalation agents comprise over twenty percent of that as a whole. One of the areas most amenable to cost reduction in the anesthesia department budget is the use and choice of inhalation anesthetic. A quantitative quasi-experimental controlled trial was developed to determine if money could be saved in the anesthesia department by utilizing Sevoflurane as the inhalation anesthetic for surgeries requiring general anesthesia less than one hour rather than Desflurane. The study chose males and females, ages twenty to forty, PS I-II, requiring general anesthesia at a mid-sized, urban, teaching hospital in South-Western Pennsylvania. Prices of anesthetic agents were gathered from the facility and calculated to determine the total cost savings that would ensue with the use of Sevoflurane agent rather than Desflurane. The use of interventional Sevoflurane for two-thirds of the cases which Desflurane was previously used resulted in a twenty-eight thousand dollar cost savings for the hospital.

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Key Words: Inhalation Anesthetics, Pharmacoeconomics, Desflurane, Sevoflurane, Anesthesia


Research Problem:

The cost of health services and technologies continue to increase exponentially while resources are finite. Developing effective strategies to minimize costs without compromising patient safety and quality of care are the most difficult challenges medical professionals experience.13 Inhalation anesthetics comprise twenty percent of the drug expenses in anesthesia departments. The cost of inhalation anesthetics depend on their potency, which is their minimum alveolar concentration (MAC), the minimum amount of inhalation anesthetic needed in the lungs to facilitate the absence of movement to noxious stimuli in fifty percent of patients, the fresh gas flows (FGF) used to deliver the anesthetic gas, the amount of anesthetic vapor released by each milliliter of liquid, and the price of the inhalation anesthetics themselves.2,16

Inhalation anesthetics are used when general anesthesia is needed for surgery and patients do not have diseases or conditions which would preclude them from being able to utilize them (e.g. those who have malignant hyperthermia). The anesthesia provider decides which inhalation anesthetic is best for a given patient, based on their history and needs for the surgery. The problem exists when providers just use whichever anesthetic is most easily accessible at that time without minding any consideration as to the cost of the particular gas and the level of FGF they are using, which is purely a waste of money as the patient will lose heat and humidity, waste high levels of inhaled anesthetic, and demise cost containment for the anesthesia department.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this research study is to determine whether the implementation of Sevoflurane as the choice inhalation anesthetic for surgery requiring general anesthesia for procedures lasting less than one hour rather than using Desflurane will provide cost containment for the anesthesia department.


The objective of this study is to provide an avenue of cost containment for the anesthesia department of a mid-sized, urban, teaching hospital and overall savings for the medical health system. This will allot more money in the department budget to be spent on technological advances, and equipment used to better develop opportunities for patient safety, the ultimate goal of all medical professionals.

Review of Literature:

Many studies explore different methods of cost containment in the anesthesia department. Almost all of the studies exclusively develop the notion of cost savings related to the fresh gas flows used to deliver inhalation anesthetics. "Cost containment requires primarily a decrease in FGFs, but it may also be influenced by a rational use of the available halogenated agents."3 With the advances in technology and the ultra-modern anesthesia machines available, anesthesia providers should feel safe in using minimal FGFs to deliver anesthesia that would not harm their patients in any way.3 Anesthetists can directly influence healthcare costs through the patterns in which they practice, which includes reducing the FGFs chosen during inhalation anesthesia, which will directly affect the amount of inhaled anesthetic delivered to the patient and ultimately the costs which are attributable to inhaled anesthetics.10,15

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Depending on breathing systems used, which are mostly semi-open today, up to ninety percent of the anesthetic gases delivered escapes into the atmosphere completely unused. By using low-flow anesthesia, most of the patient's air they exhale is recycled and then returned to the patient's lungs after the carbon dioxide from the exhaled air has been absorbed.15 There are also advantages of using low-flow anesthesia such as conserving the patient's heat and humidity, making it less of a need to warm the patient externally, which will cut down costs on heating blankets and the like, as well as maximized the rebreathing of the exhaled anesthetic, which will cut down on the amount of gas vented into the environment,6 but there are cautions that anesthesia providers must take when using low FGFs, as titration in inhalation anesthetic is not as easily predicted.

Product labeling for Sevoflurane does include a warning that patient exposure should not exceed two hours using FGF rates greater than one and less than two liters per minute.7 Also, it is not recommended at all to maintain FGFs less than one when using Sevoflurane as the patient's inhalation anesthetic of choice. These recommendations are to minimize the risk of exposure of the patient to compound A which in laboratory animals, has been shown to be linked to nephrotoxicity. There are no minimum flow rate designations that exist for Desflurane, 0.5 liter FGF have showed no aberrancies.7,8

Isoflurane is less expensive than Sevoflurane and Desflurane at equal dose and the same FGFs.7 When comparing Sevoflurane with Desflurane as they are being used for surgeries lasting less than two hours; there was a ninety percent decrement time for Sevoflurane which approached the short duration of anesthesia matching that of Desflurane. However, when the duration of anesthesia increased over two hours, Sevoflurane's ninety percent decrement time approached that of Isoflurane.7

The cost of inhaled anesthetic agent can be estimated by using an equation that provides the cost of anesthetic per MAC hour:

"Cost per MAC hour ($) = [(Conc.)(FGF rate)(Duration)(MW)(Cost per mL)] / [(2412)(D)]"6

The cost of one milliliter of Isoflurane is twenty-three cents, Sevoflurane is forty-one cents, and Desflurane is eighty-three cents. Regardless of the fast onset and emergence Desflurane offers, the cost of administering Desflurane is greater than the cost of Sevoflurane at any FGF rate.10,11

The cost of inhaled anesthetic agent can be estimated by calculating the cost per MAC hour, which is the administration of inhaled anesthetic agent at 1 MAC for a one hour time interval. The cost can be calculated using the concentration percent on the anesthetic dial of gas delivered, the FGF rate chosen, the duration of the anesthetic (sixty minutes in this case), the molecular weight of the anesthetic agent (MW in grams), cost per mL of liquid agent (in dollars), a factor accounting for the molar volume of gas at twenty-one degrees Celsius (a constant of two thousand four-hundred twelve), and the density of the agent (D in grams/mL).

"Cost per MAC hour ($) = [(Conc.)(FGF rate)(Duration)(MW)(Cost per mL)] / [(2412)(D)]"6

The cost per MAC hour can be seen in Table 2. Desflurane is associated with a shorter recovery than is Sevoflurane, but the differences between the two in terms of patient discharge cannot be consistently shown in research studies.13 Gupta evaluated n=246 patients for recovery time after undergoing surgeries less than two hours with either Sevoflurane or Desflurane. Patients given Desflurane were able to open their eyes sixty seconds before those who received Sevoflurane, P<0.00001. However, when the patients went to recovery, those who went under Sevoflurane were responding much quicker to command than those who had Desflurane by six minutes, P<0.00001. No other differences were found between the two groups of patients 14.

When comparing Sevoflurane and Isoflurane for patients who are undergoing surgery for more than two hours, Gupta evaluated n=634 patients. The patients who underwent Sevoflurane were able to open their eyes sooner, P<0.00001, time to obeying commands, and time for home discharge, P=0.05. There is only a very minute favoring of Sevoflurane, but it is important to note these discharge statistics are only based on two trial studies. There were no differences found in postoperative complications between Sevoflurane and Isoflurane.13,14

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Savings of more than one-hundred thousand dollars resulted from the change of using Desflurane to using Sevoflurane in the operating rooms at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. Traynor noted that three bottles of Desflurane are needed to maintain a level of anesthesia equal to that of one bottle of Sevoflurane, making this agent much less expensive for the hospital to utilize, with no difference in patient discharge times. Reviews of Literature indicated that patients who received Desflurane could be extubated in the operating room about two minutes sooner than the patients who received Sevoflurane; an advantage seen meaningless in the large scale of the operating room sequences.9,15


The research design chosen was a quasi-experimental study. It involved the use of an experimental group and a control group. It is important to mention that the control group was compiled from hospital anesthesia records. The study did not involve randomization as a medical facility's computer database cannot throughput this information. Permission from a mid-sized, Southwestern Pennsylvania teaching hospital was granted and all information gathered from the facility involved no patient identifiers, including gender or age. The hospital's Institutional Review Board (IRB) was provided all details of the research study and deemed the research experiment to be exempt and permission was granted to start the study without any changes in the study's design. The Southwestern Pennsylvania hospital was asked to provide their costs for Desflurane, Sevoflurane, and Isoflurane inhalation anesthetics as of July, 2012. These prices can be seen in Table 1 of Appendix A. Utilizing the equation to calculate the amount of inhaled anesthetic used during a general surgical case within a sixty minute time duration, MAC hour costs could be calculated as seen in Table 3. The pharmacy was also asked to provide how many bottles of inhalation anesthetic are bought and used annually in their operating rooms, from July, 2011 to July, 2012. These results are seen in Chart 1 and calculated annual costs of the anesthetics are shown in Chart 2 in Appendix C.

The experimental group for the research procedure involved men and women, ages twenty to forty, with PS scores of I and II, who were undergoing general anesthesia for surgery cases lasting less than one hour from July, 2012 to September, 2012. These patients were administered Sevoflurane as their inhalation anesthetic during surgery at a FGF rate of 2 liters per minute (LPM). To be sure all patients were given the same standard induction regimen, all drug doses were based on current body weight calculations. Propofol, a sedative hypnotic was given at 2 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). Fentanyl, an opioid analgesic was given at 5 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg). Midazolam, a benzodiazepine sedative was given at a standard dose of 0.05 mg/kg. Lidocaine, a class 2 anti-arrhythmic agent was given at 1.5 mg/kg. Rocuronium, a steroidal muscle relaxant was given at 0.8 mg/kg. All patients participating in the study were given their induction medications at these doses provided.

Electronic medical record information was gathered for this research study for both the control group and the experimental group. The comparison group was compiled by utilizing electronic anesthesia records from April, 2012 to June, 2012 before experimental variables were altered for this research study. Data was collected for men and women, ages twenty to forty, PS I-II receiving general anesthesia for a time period less than one. Information gathered was choice of inhalation anesthetic (Sevoflurane or Desflurane for the control group and Sevoflurane for the experimental group), FGF (2 LPM for the experimental group and variable flows for the control group), and total duration of time the anesthetic was used from start to finish of the procedure. This information was then plugged in to the MAC Hour cost formula, and the price of the anesthetic for each individual case was determined. All information was kept in confidence in a suitcase that was locked at all times and destroyed at the end of the research study.

In the preoperative area, all patients were given the right to participate or not participate in the research experiment as they were provided a letter of informed consent, which described completely that they would be treated no differently than any other patient and they were voluntarily consenting to participate in a research study as an individual, and in no way obligated to participate if they were unwilling to do so.

Those who were not involved in the experimentation are those patients who were unwilling to consent to participate in the experiment as an individual. Those with malignant hyperthermia were excluded from the study as they could not receive volatile inhalation anesthetics. Patients who required additional narcotic for pain during surgery were excused from participation. Those with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure were also not involved in the experiment as Sevoflurane, the experimental variable could lead to kidney complications. Patients with severe liver disease and liver failure were also excluded from participation. Participants who only were given inhalation anesthetic for painful stimulation during intravenous sedation were also excluded from participation in this study.

It was important to determine which inhalation anesthetic was favored most by anesthesia providers, Sevoflurane or Desflurane for general anesthesia cases lasting less than one hour, and why professionals at the Southwestern Pennsylvania hospital preferred them. As a convenience sample, ninety-seven surveys were sent out to all members of the anesthesia team as titled "Survey 1" in Appendix D to determine which anesthetic they favor and reasons leading them to prefer each one.


Ethical considerations were regarded during the completion of the study from start to finish. All information gathered from a Southwestern Pennsylvania hospital was kept in confidence and destroyed at the finish of the study by professional paper shredding services. Participant names, ages, race, nationality, and medical histories were not gathered from the hospital and were blinded from the investigator, owing to complete confidence of all those who participated during a twelve month interval.


Results are pending until the quasi-experimental research study is completed, however, a prospective cost savings can be estimated. If the Southwestern Pennsylvania Hospital would decrease its use of Desflurane by two-thirds or sixty-six percent, they can save over twenty-eight thousand dollars annually. Chart 3 in Appendix B shows the total cost spending on inhalation anesthetics after a two-thirds decrease in Desflurane use and Chart 4 in Appendix C shows annual costs associated with the sixty-six percent decrease in Desflurane use. This cost savings is derived by subtracting the prospective annual cost of inhalation anesthetics after intervention from the current annual cost of inhalation anesthetics at the hospital ($100,167.40 and $72,109.46 respectively) resulting in a 28,000 cost savings for the hospital.


Volatile inhalation anesthetics account for twenty percent of pharmacy costs in the anesthesia department.10,16 By using a pharmacoeconomic model, it can be seen that careful choice of anesthetic for patients can represent a large cost containment for the anesthesia department in the hospital, without compromising patient care. All patients need to be considered a new case and may not fit into the pharmacoeconomic model because of family histories (e.g. malignant hyperthermia). However, when possible, using Sevoflurane for the choice inhalation anesthetic for general surgery cases rather than Desflurane for those lasting less than one hour can result in large cost savings for the anesthesia department. Over twenty-eight thousand dollars could be saved if the Southwestern Pennsylvania hospital would utilize Sevoflurane over Desflurane for two-thirds of their total surgeries requiring general anesthesia for less than one hour.

It is important to mention that as a professional anesthesia student, FGF commonly observed with Sevoflurane are 2 LPM and FGF with Desflurane commonly observed are 2 LPM. The nephrogenicity associated with Sevoflurane is not commonly observed when this amount of FGFs are used.7 With the use of 1 LPM FGF when using Desflurane, as there is no minimum FGF required to avoid physiological aberrance, 17,19 there is also a great cost savings maintained for the anesthesia department.


There are limitations in any study when research is conducted and from this study, results are limited to a single institution and this limits its external validity as a result. Randomization was not included in this research study as a convenience sample population was used at one hospital location. The study was not extremely descriptive as patients with higher PS scores were not studied in this particular research project. This study is also missing research on older age groups, as participants' age twenty to forty were included only. Estimated surgical times for procedures can be underestimated. As all of these limitations can be seen in the experimental study, the results from this research study cannot be imposed on larger populations and therefore generalizability is poor. Future research can make these findings representable and provide for better generalization.

Future Recommendations for Research

In future research, randomization should be used when developing research as this will strengthen the results. Larger sample populations should be used in defined, smaller age variances to be able to impose the results on a specific group of patients. Defined surgeries should be used in sample populations to show stronger significance when looking at varied surgical procedures their results. With the inclusion of the above criteria, the research study would be experimental rather than quasi-experimental, and results could be superimposed onto given populations with much stronger data observance.


This research project's findings will be disseminated through one hour lectures provided at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Robert Morris University, and St. Vincent College. Times and final adjusted locations are to be announced via bulletins, which be hung in the cafeterias of each of these locations one month ahead of the proposed date.


Inhalation anesthetics represent a significant cost for pharmaceutical costs in the anesthesia department. It is important for professional anesthesia providers to deliver cost-effective, safe anesthesia care to patients in surgery. When analyzing surgical procedures requiring general anesthesia for less than one hour, the use of Sevoflurane rather than Desflurane as the choice inhalation anesthetic in surgery can provide the anesthesia department an avenue of cost savings without compromising patient care. When Desflurane must be used for patients who cannot be administered Sevoflurane, it is important to keep in mind there is no recommendation for FGF rates, and cost savings can also be preserved by utilizing low FGFs when using Desflurane.


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inhalation anaesthetic agents: an 11-year retrospective analysis. Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, 38(5), 849-854.

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Odin I, Feiss P. (2005). Low flow and economics of inhalation anaesthesia. Best Practice Research Clinical Anaesthesiology, 19(3), 399-413.

Strum EM, Szenohradszki J, Kaufman W, Anthone GJ, Manz IL, & Lumb PD (2004). Emergence and Recovery Characteristics of Desflurane Versus Sevoflurane in Morbidly Obese Adult Surgical Patients: A Prospective, Randomized Study. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 99, 1848-1853.

Boldt J, & Suttner S. (2000). Low-Flow Anesthesia: Does it have Potential Pharmacoeconomic Consequences? Pharmacoeconomics, 17(6), 585-590.

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Boldt J, Juan N, Kumle B, Heck M, & Mund K. (1998). Economic Considerations of the Use of New Anesthetics: A comparison of Propofol, Sevoflurane, Desflurane, and Isoflurane. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 86, 504-509.

Agoliati A, Dexter F, Lok J, et al. (2010). Meta-Analysis of Average and Variability of Time to Extubation Comparing Isoflurane with Desflurane or Isoflurane with Sevoflurane. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 110(5), 1433-1439.

Dolk A, Cannerfelt R, Anderson RE, & Jakobsson JP. (2002). Inhalation anesthesia is cost-effective for ambulatory surgery: a clinical comparison with propofol during elective knee arthroscopy. European Journal of Anesthesiology, 19(2), 88-92.

Chernin EL (2004). Pharmacoeconomics of inhaled anesthetic agents: Considerations for the pharmacist. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 61(4), 18-22.

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isoflurane on recovery after long lasting anaesthesia. Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia, 45(5), 429-434.

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Gupta A, Stierer T, Zuckerman R, Sakima N, Parker S, & Fleisher LA (2004). Comparison of Recovery Profile After Ambulatory Anesthesia with Propofol, Isoflurane, Sevoflurane and Desflurane: A Systematic Review. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 98, 632-641.

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Information. Accessed 08/30/2012 with Permission from Corporate Department.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Hospital. (2012). Pharmacy Records. Accessed

08/30/2012 with Permission from Corporate Department.

Appendix A

Table 1: Cost of Inhalation Anesthetic per a Southwestern Pennsylvania Hospital Pharmacy Records

Inhalation Anesthetic

Cost Per Bottle ($)

Total Volume in Bottle (mL)

Cost per mL of Liquid ($)

Sevoflurane (Ultane)




Isoflurane (Forane)




Desflurane (Suprane)




Reference 19.

Table 2: Estimated Cost per MAC Hour ($) of Inhaled Anesthetic Gases: Based on FGF Rates

FGF Rate (L/Min)

Isoflurane ($)

Desflurane ($)

Sevoflurane ($)

















All estimated costs are based on duration of 60 minutes and the formula proposed by Golembiewski.

Isoflurane calculations are based on concentration of 1.15%, MW of 184g, cost per mL=$0.15 and D of 1.49 g/mL

Desflurane calculations are based on concentration of 6%, MW of 168g, cost per mL=$0.96, and D of 1.45g/mL

Sevoflurane calculations are based on concentration of 2.0%, MW of 201g, cost per mL=$0.90, and D of 1.51g/mL

Reference 7.

Appendix B

Table 3: Calculated MAC Hour Inhalation Anesthetic Cost at a Southwestern Pennsylvania Hospital

FGF Rate (L/Min)

Isoflurane ($)

Desflurane ($)

Sevoflurane ($)

















All estimated costs are based on duration of 60 minutes and the formula proposed by Golembiewski.

Isoflurane calculations are based on concentration of 1.15%, MW of 184g, cost per mL=$0.09 and D of 1.49 g/mL

Desflurane calculations are based on concentration of 6%, MW of 168g, cost per mL=$0.56, and D of 1.45g/mL

Sevoflurane calculations are based on concentration of 2.0%, MW of 201g, cost per mL=$0.40, and D of 1.51g/mL

Chart 1: Number of Bottles of Inhalation Anesthetic Used Annually at a Southwestern Pennsylvania Hospital

Reference 19.

Appendix C

Chart 2: Annual Expenditure on Inhalation Anesthetics at a Southwestern Pennsylvania Hospital