Knowledge of the clinical and economic impact of antimicrobial resistance is useful to influence programs and behavior in healthcare facilities, to guide policy makers and funding agencies, to define the prognosis of individual patients and to stimulate interest in developing new antimicrobial agents and therapies. There are a variety of important issues that must be considered when designing or interpreting studies into the clinical and economic outcomes associated with antimicrobial resistance. One of the most misunderstood issues is how to measure cost appropriately. Although imperfect, existing data show that there is an association between antimicrobial resistance in Staphylococcus aureus, enterococci and Gram-negative bacilli and increases in mortality, morbidity, length of hospitalization and cost of healthcare. Patients with infections due to antimicrobial-resistant organisms have higher costs (US $6,000-30,000) than do patients with infections due to antimicrobial-susceptible organisms; the difference in cost is even greater when patients infected with antimicrobial-resistant organisms are compared with patients without infection. Given limited budgets, knowledge of the clinical and economic impact of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, coupled with the benefits of specific interventions targeted to reduce these infections, will allow for optimal control and improved patient safety. In this review, the authors discuss a variety of important issues that must be considered when designing or interpreting studies of the clinical and economic outcomes associated with antimicrobial resistance. Representative literature is reviewed regarding the associations between antimicrobial resistance in specific pathogens and adverse outcomes, including increased mortality, length of hospital stay and cost.