BACKGROUND: The issue of containing cost has had a significant impact on organ transplantation. After our institution's 500th liver transplant, we critically examined the impact of the changing health care environment on liver transplantation. METHODS: We retrospectively analyzed 500 consecutive liver transplants done in the period of 1989 to 1998. RESULTS: Comparing the first 100 liver transplants to the last 100, patient demographics did not change significantly; however, mean waiting times increased significantly, from 30.4 days to 146.7 days, and median hospital stay decreased from 20.2 days to 10.9 days. One-year patient and graft survivals were not significantly different, 93.6% versus 96.5% and 88.0% versus 95.7%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Despite transplants in patients at higher risk and discharging patients sooner after transplantation, surgical results and patient survivals remained excellent. This was accomplished through improvements and modification of immunosuppression, outpatient treatment of uncomplicated acute rejection, and emphasis on close outpatient follow-up.