July 19, 2013 — It’s been a bad year for Intuitive Surgical, the manufacturer of the Da Vinci Surgical Robot. Since the end of February, the company has lost 32% in market value, or about $6 billion. Stock prices fell nearly 7% earlier this week, after executives reported receiving a warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Sales of the robot have steadily declined amid concerns about robot surgery injuries, recalls, costs, critical studies, and insurance companies who may be unwilling to pay the added expense of certain procedures.
Intuitive is also facing a growing number of robot surgery lawsuits. The company won the first lawsuit to go to trial, but circumstances of that case may not protect them from future liability. The company recently recalled 30 robots that were not tested properly. They have also issued warnings about burns and electrocutions caused by insulation defects in the robotic scissors (or “Hot Shears”) that cut and cauterize tissue. Some doctors have faced malpractice lawsuits involving allegations of inadequate training.
The high costs of the robot has also led to a decline in sales. Each robot costs about $1.5 million, with $125 million in annual maintenance costs. Thousands of dollars are added to the cost of each surgery in single-use instruments sold by Intuitive.
The added cost has come under scrutiny by some insurance companies, who could be unwilling to pay for certain procedures. Hysterectomies, for example, are an average of $2,200 more expensive with a robot, but offer little benefit, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.