Intuitive Surgical’s Profit Rises on Greater Robot Sales

Intuitive Surgical Inc., the embattled maker of robot surgery devices, said first-quarter profit rose 32 percent on greater use of its da Vinci system.

Net income was $188.9 million, or $4.56 a share, from $143.5 million, or $3.50 a share a year earlier, the Sunnyvale, California-based company said today in a statement. Earnings topped the $3.98 average of 14 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue increased 23 percent to $611.4 million.

Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot system, which costs about $1.5 million each, is used in 1,371 hospitals and was involved in more than 300,000 operations last year, the company has said. The device maker is facing at least a dozen lawsuits, including one at trial this week in Washington state, alleging patients were injured by during surgery with the system and doctors hadn’t been trained properly in how to use the robot.

“Despite a concerted effort by vocal critics of robotic surgery, support remains strong among patients, surgeons and hospitals,” Gary Guthart, Intuitive Surgical’s president and chief executive officer, said in the statement. “Da Vinci surgery has clinically proven benefits in offering a minimally invasive option to a broader group of patients than traditional technologies.”

The company reaffirmed its 2013 forecast of 16 percent to 19 percent sales growth and expects to reach the “higher end of that range,” said Calvin Darling, a spokesman for the company. Intuitive Surgical also expects “the lower end” of its estimate that total surgical procedures would increase 20 percent to 23 percent this year, he said.

Surgical Procedures

Surgical procedures jumped 18 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared with a year earlier, driven by growth in general surgery, U.S. gynecological uses and international urology procedures, the company said in the statement. Use of the da Vinci device in prostate procedures in the U.S. decreased, the company said.

Intuitive Surgical declined 2.8 percent to $493.37 at the close in New York before the earnings announcement. The company’s shares have dropped 16 percent in the past 12 months.

In robot surgery, a doctor sits at a video-game style console several feet from the patient and peers into a high-definition display. Foot pedals and hand controls maneuver mechanical arms equipped with surgical tools, guided by a 3-D camera that shows the work as it is done inside a patient. An increasing number of injuries from the surgery has prompted an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Bloomberg News reported on Feb. 28.

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