Intuitive Surgical is haptic to meet you. Employing haptics (the science of computer-aided touch sensitivity), the firm developed the da Vinci Surgical System, a combination of software, hardware, and optics that allows doctors to perform robotically aided surgery from a remote console. The da Vinci system reproduces the doctor's hand movements in real time, during minimally invasive surgery performed by tiny electromechanical arms and instruments. The company manufactures its systems and relies upon contract manufacturers to supply the instruments and accessories used with the systems. Intuitive Surgical sells its products worldwide through both a direct sales force and independent distributors.
The leading maker of surgical robots, Intuitive Surgical has seen strong growth as demand for less traumatic, minimally invasive surgical procedures has increased. Along with reducing trauma to the patient related to large incisions, robotic systems are also said to increase precision and reduce the likelihood of hand tremors by employing "motion scaling," which, among other things, uses a filter to reduce tremors that are naturally inherent in a surgeon's hands.
Hospitals can take several routes to obtain the big-ticket da Vinci systems. Some can plunk down the $1 million plus in cash, while others work with third-party leasing companies to spread the payments out over time. Once the system is in place, a hospital must continue to purchase replacement instruments and accessories from the company.
Historically the systems were marketed with a focus on gynecological and urological procedure. Following advances in technology, the systems are also being pitched for use in cardiothoracic, transoral (head and neck), and general surgical procedures. However, in 2011 gynecological and urological procedures still accounted for more than 90% of da Vinci-assisted surgeries.
Intuitive Surgical has strategic alliances with a number of medical device businesses in the areas of product development, training, and marketing. Some of its alliances include those with Covidien, Olympus Corporation, and Johnson & Johnson, among others.
Part of the company's growth strategy is to introduce next generation versions of the original da Vinci system. Newer models build on the robot's core technology adding enhancements that include increased visual acuity and ease of use. The da Vinci Single-Site instruments and accessories were introduced in 2011 to allow the systems to work through a single incision, reducing trauma to the patient. To augment its training program Intuitive Surgical created a da Vinci skills simulator for surgeons to practice on virtual patients first.