UPDATED: Intuitive slides as doc group slams robotic surgery 'hype'

A major OB/GYN group is challenging the value of surgical robots like Intuitive's da Vinci.--Courtesy of Intuitive Surgical

A major OB/GYN group has cast serious doubt on the value of robotic hysterectomy surgeries, and Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG), the market leader in such devices, watched its share price tumble as investors worry that surgeons will think twice before using robots like Intuitive's da Vinci.

Intuitive fell about 5.2% to $489.89 yesterday after American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists President James Breeden issued a statement saying robotic surgery is neither the best nor most cost-efficient option for women in need of hysterectomies.

It is, however, the most expensive, Breeden said, with hospitals paying $1.7 million per robot, $125,000 in annual upkeep and $2,000 per procedure for single-use device components. Companies like Intuitive have seen demand for their devices soar over the past few years, largely due to direct-to-consumer marketing that has misled women into thinking robot procedures are significantly safer than standard surgeries, Breeden said.

"It is important to separate the marketing hype from the reality when considering the best surgical approach for hysterectomies," Breeden wrote. "At a time when there is a demand for more fiscal responsibility and transparency in healthcare, the use of expensive medical technology should be questioned when less-costly alternatives provide equal or better patient outcomes."

Breeden's organization counts about 56,000 OB/GYNs among its membership, and if surgeons around the country heed his advice and start steering patients away from da Vinci, Intuitive will likely struggle to repeat last year's $2.2 billion in sales.

Intuitive maintains that while there are scenarios in which traditional hysterectomy procedures are ideal, robotic surgery is a safe and effective option that has enabled more women than ever to receive minimally invasive surgery.

"As a tool, robotic surgery helps surgeons overcome the limitations of traditional MIS techniques to provide patients with a less invasive option and prevent the downstream costs and complications of an open procedure," the company said in a statement provided to FierceMedicalDevices. "It is well-documented in the clinical literature that a minimally invasive procedure compared to open is better for patients and saves cost for the entire health care system."

But while Intuitive has thus far stuck to its guns, skeptical doctors, a suspicious FDA and jilted patients continue to circle.

Last month, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that robots like da Vinci add about $2,200 onto the cost of surgery without making a marked difference on patient outcomes, and the FDA has since been surveying physicians in an effort to account for a rise in adverse event reports related to the robot.

Intuitive says the uptick in reports is due to a change in how it files them, but at least 10 da Vinci patients contend that the devices are unsafe, suing Intuitive over injuries they say resulted from robotic surgery.

- read Breeden's statement

This story was updated to included comments from Intuitive Surgical

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