So, Robots…. Yes or No?

The water’s been pretty rough for robotic surgical device maker Intuitive Surgical and its da Vinci® system over the past year. Its share price tells the tale in numbers, but we’ve covered the birth pains of robotic surgery for some time now and it’s fair to say that it seems the jury’s still out. A new study won’t cheer the company up much as it claims the additional procedure cost doesn’t come with an improved outcome for hysterectomy patients.


Earlier this year, on July 1st, we covered the story of Intuitive Surgical’s troubles with the regulator. The FDA had paid Intuitive a lot of attention and found the company wanting in a number of areas, not least the fact that it had added the thyroid indication without informing the agency about its decision not to seek its nod for the move. That, and the rest of the wrist slapping can be found here.

A week or so later, on July 9th we covered Intuitive’s published financials, which didn’t make wonderful reading. The growth they’d expected hadn’t occurred…well, it had, but not as much as they’d predicted. The company sought to blame factors such as payer conservatism and higher outpatient treatments in the period, but speculation remained that maybe these extremely expensive tools simply weren’t paying their way. You can find that piece here. The company’s share price took a 16% nosedive on that very day incidentally.

And now what’s happened is that a new study, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology has found an incremental per procedure cost of $2489 is accompanied by an unimproved complication rate. In fact the complications experienced in robotic hysterectomy patients, while similar in frequency, were different in that more people suffered pneumonia (while fewer required blood transfusions).

The company is obviously challenging the conclusion of the study, claiming that the comparative patient groups were dissimilar, da Vinci patients being typically older, heavier and with a higher rate of chronic conditions.

Nonetheless, the ultimate arbiter, the share price,  is still grumbling along at the $384 level, compared with its early July average of over $500.

We spotted this tale on Bloomberg and you can find the full piece here.

We say

When you’re a pioneer in any new technology you’re likely to have to face the brickbats along the way. Robotic-assisted surgery is probably here to stay, so maybe the ups and downs delivered by periodically released clinical results simply go with the territory.

Source: Bloomberg