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This Surgeon Isn't Falling Out of Love With Intuitive Surgical Or Its Robots

PITTSBURGH ( TheStreet) -- Let me offer you -- the good readers of TheStreet -- some notice. I make money the old fashion way. I cut people open. I work full time as a busy academic urologic oncologist. So why am I here? To rant about why the recent panic over Intuitive Surgical (ISRG - Get Report) and the safety of its da Vinci surgical robot is likely smoke and mirrors. I will also tell you why I'm bullish on the future of surgical robotics.

In the past few weeks, various media reports and disclosures have hammered Intuitive Surgical. An FDA investigation into the da Vinci robots was disclosed. A negative article regarding outcomes of robotic surgeries for hysterectomies was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Last, a statement raising concerns about the cost, marketing and outcomes of robot surgery was issued by the American College of Gynecologists.

In my view, none of this doom and gloom has changed the optimistic view of robotic surgery or Intuitive Surgical's role in the growing field. Intuitive Surgical bulls should be buying. Bears can short the stock. Do whatever it is you do, my financial peeps, because you never beat the indices any way.

From my perch as a surgeon who actually uses the da Vinci robot, let me cut through the bulls--t. According to Bloomberg, FDA is investigating Intuitive Surgical for "malfunctioning" equipment and/or excessive deaths. So far, the investigation consists of FDA sending surveys to surgeons to determine if they've noticed any problems with the company's robots. Meantime, Intuitive Surgical explains the reported uptick in safety reports is simply the result of a change in the way adverse events -- known as medical device reports (MDRs) -- are reported.

I'm not surprised at all by an increase in the number of MDRs because there are more da Vinci robots in the healthcare system. The ratio of MDRs to surgical cases is the more applicable data to determine if an uptick in adverse events is truly occurring. Those data have not been reported.

I have never seen a serious problem related to the da Vinci surgical robot in over 1,000 surgeries. I have hundreds of professional colleagues who use the machine daily, and none have ever told me of a malfunctioning robot that hurt a patient independent of their action. Annually, more than 500,000 robotic surgical procedures, including 250,000 robotic prostatectomies, are performed. With that tremendous volume, a significant safety issue, if one existed, would have been apparent by now.
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