Intuitive Surgical Seeks a Better Year in 2014 

Posted in Medical Device Business by Stephen Levy on January 17, 2014

Better-than-expected quarterly results are helping to buoy Intuitive Surgical’s stock prices, even as its top executives continue damage control in the discourse regarding the safety of Da Vinci robotic surgery.

Gary Guthart, Intuitive’s president and CEO, claims progress in the hearts and minds of hospitals, saying that despite reported adverse events and ongoing FDA issues, surgery with the Da Vinci system is still far safer than conventional open surgery. Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive’s latest recalls managed to garner a report in Injury Lawyer News. But the company also reported stronger than expected results in the fourth quarter.

While sales of new Da Vinci systems fell, more procedures were performed using existing systems. Intuitive said although total revenue fell 5% in the fourth quarter to about $576 million from $609 million a year ago, that was still higher than the $548.6 million expected by analysts.

The company’s stock has risen from about $360 to about $440 per share over the past month. But it was trading at more than $500 per share a year ago, which means there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Guthart, speaking at the J.P. Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco on January 14, attributed the decline in new sales in part, at least, to uncertainties around Obamacare implementation in the United States. Such uncertainties affect health provider’s acquisition of expensive items such as Da Vinci surgical systems.

It might also be recalled that back in September, a Johns Hopkins study published online in the Journal for Healthcare Quality warned that complications involving robotic surgery may be under-reported. Intuitive disputed the study's claims, saying that their conclusion that robot-related surgical complications were under-reported is "misleading." For its own part, Intuitive cites four studies on its own website that illustrate the safety of Da Vinci surgery over non-robotic-assisted approaches for two procedures

The Johns Hopkins report cited 245 FDA-reported adverse events associated with robots in the operating room, including 71 deaths. This is out of over 1 million Da Vinci procedures Intuitive says have been performed since 2000.

Still, after FDA issued a recall on some Da Vinci systems because a part known as a jaw insert could fall off the machine during surgery, Intuitive was reported as responding in part that “most surgeons would notice” if the part fell off. This doesn't exactly instill confidence.

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