An Attractive Time to Invest in Robotic Surgery

Greg is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG) is widely known for its successful da Vinci robotic surgical system, which is used for a wide variety of minimally invasive surgeries. The da Vinci system consists of robotic arms equipped with surgical equipment and a high-tech camera system, which provides a 3D image to a nearby console operated by the physician. Some of the documented and proven benefits over conventional surgery are a reduced size of the incision, less scarring, quicker recovery time, and a reduced level of pain. There are about 2500 da Vinci systems installed worldwide that have been used to perform millions of successful minimally invasive surgeries. 

Intuitive Surgical has created a large amount of wealth for early investors, increasing from about $8/share to about $600/share over the last decade. However, the share price has dropped about 20% to below $460/share due to a couple of recent reports questioning the advantages of robotic surgery over conventional surgery. Also, a probe by U.S Regulators to investigate the cause of incidents has also contributed to this decline. This decline has provided an opportunity for investors to get in at a very attractive price.

Reasons to Invest in Intuitive Surgical

  • Intuitive Surgical's financial results have been excellent. Over the last five years, sales have increased from $875 Million to $2.2 Billion and net income has increased from $200 Million to $650 Million.
  • A growing portion of Intuitive Surgical's sales are due to recurring revenue, which consists of a wide variety of accessories used for each surgery. Recurring revenues in 2012 were $1.25 Billion, or 57% of total revenues. This is the classic razor blade business model.
  • The types of surgeries have increased over time. Current surgery types performed by the Da Vinci include urology, gynecology, cardiology, general surgery, and head and neck surgery. There is potential for the surgery types to be expanded in upcoming years.
  • Conventional surgery is the main form of competition. There are other robotic surgical companies that are currently used for different types of procedures. MAKO Surgical (NASDAQ: MAKO) is a company that utilizes robotic surgical technology in a different way. MAKO Surgical markets its MAKOplasty orthopedic procedures to treat early to mid-stage osteoarthritis of the knee and to complete total hip replacements. The RIO Robotic Arm Orthopedic System is used to provide reproducible precision for MAKOplasty procedures. MAKO Surgical is also trading at an attractive price at $12.25, which is well below its all-time high of over $40/share.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, Intuitive Surgical would not have gotten this far if the benefits of the da Vinci system had not been proven. There are a very large number of detailed reports that confirm the benefits and I believe that they are valid. Also, the large number of hospitals that have purchased the da Vinci systems would not make this level of investment without doing extensive research to verify the effectiveness and the benefits of the da Vinci system.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation by U.S. Regulators, I believe that Intuitive Surgical will survive and become a stronger company. However, even one incident resulting in death is too many and if the da Vinci is proven to be the cause some of these incidents, they should and will be held liable. If the da Vinci system is the reason for any incidents, a positive outcome would be corrective actions that result in a reduced number of incidents in the future. Surgery is always dangerous and as with conventional surgery there will be incidents. However, I believe that the da Vinci system will continue to be the safest, quickest and least painful form of surgery.

As with any stock, Intuitive Surgical has some risks associated due to the pending investigation. I believe that the long term rewards outweigh these risks and that now is a good time to consider opening or adding to a position in Intuitive Surgical.


GW1000 owns shares of Intuitive Surgical and MAKO Surgical . The Motley Fool recommends Intuitive Surgical and MAKO Surgical . The Motley Fool owns shares of Intuitive Surgical. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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