Ex-Intuitive sales rep testifies: Surgical robot sales drove my pay

Testimony from an ex-Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG) sales representative may have bolstered a lawsuit alleging the company marketed its signature surgical robots too aggressively, leaving out vital surgical training that led to a man's death.

Bloomberg reports that Damon Daniels acknowledged 75% of his salary stemmed from the amount of robotic surgeries performed in his sales region--the northwestern U.S. In addition, he testified that the company paid bonuses for any additional machines purchased by hospitals in his territory. What's more, he testified, he aggressively tried to convert doctors slow to switch to da Vinci, and that the company encouraged the practice, according to the story.

The family of the late Fred Taylor is suing Intuitive, alleging that the company didn't properly train doctors to use the company's da Vinci surgical robots, leading to Taylor's death from complications in the weeks after a seven-hour da Vinci-assisted prostate surgery. They accuse the company of simplifying training in order to boost sales. Intuitive, in turn, said it takes the legal claims "seriously" but that Washington law doesn't require it to train doctors on how to use the da Vinci system. And this is the third week of the ongoing trial.

At least one other witness said Daniels would have been in the operating suite during Taylor's prostatectomy. According to the article, he said he didn't remember the surgery or discussing Taylor's obesity or the post-surgical problems with the performing doctor. But Daniels acknowledged he sometimes appeared in the operating room when a surgeon first used the da Vinci system to help out with setup, position the device or address questions. He said he wouldn't necessarily know about specific patients because he only saw them after they were prepped for surgery, and he wouldn't know a patient's face or body size.

That's an important distinction because Intuitive argues that Taylor's obesity should have kept him from da Vinci-assisted surgery, and that it cautioned the surgeon to focus his initial da Vinci procedures on thin patients using simple procedures, Bloomberg reports.

Publicity over the trial hasn't hurt Intuitive's bottom line as yet. The company's 2013 first-quarter revenue reached $611 million, a 23% jump over the previous year. Net income also soared, hitting $189 million, up substantially from $144 million over the same period in the company's 2012 first quarter.

- read the Bloomberg story

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