We report on a consecutive series of 16 patients with complicated parapneumonic effusion or empyema, in whom, after a failed attempt at tube drainage, thoracoscopy under local anesthesia ("medical" thoracoscopy) was performed for debridement and placement of a chest tube. This approach led to immediate clinical improvement in all patients and to definitive cure in 12 of 16. In 4 patients open surgical debridement was necessary after a few days in an elective procedure. In a subgroup of thoracoscopically treated patients, lung function tests were performed at least 6 months after the procedure and did not demonstrate significant restrictive changes. We conclude that thoracoscopy under local anesthesia is a valuable addition to the treatment options in patients with multiloculated, complicated parapneumonic effusion or empyema not responsive to simple tube thoracotomy. The procedure is less taxing for the patient and less expensive than video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery under general anesthesia or open decortication.