March 03, 2010      

Intuitive Surgical Inc. received notice from Japan’s Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Agency that the country’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has given its approval for Intuitive’s da Vinci robotic surgical system. According to the brief (and somewhat cryptic) November 20 press release, the Japanese will now allow Intuitive to market the da Vinci system in Japan.

For Intuitive and its investors, the long-awaited approval is good news, particularly given a shaken worldwide market, as well as healthcare providers shying from new capital investments and cutting spending overall. The average price for a da Vinci system is in excess of $12 million. And that’s just the beginning. Instrument and accessory costs, as well as ongoing upgrades, maintenance, and training are ongoing.

For Intuitive, its work in Japan can now begin in earnest. Having received approval from the ministry, the company can move on to fulfilling Japanese trade and importation requirements, and developing reimbursement models.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the November 20 announcement was not the beginning of the end of Intuitive’s Japan initiative, but the end of the beginning. And what a beginning. Intuitive Surgical now has a foothold in the world’s second largest market for medical devices, and one which, according to the consensus opinion of analysts, should eventually account for 10 percent of the da Vinci installed base.

Cool, levelheaded analytics deems Intuitive’s move into the Japanese market as positive. A right-brained analysis, which includes psychosocial drivers, is equally reassuring. The Japanese are technophiles supreme, particularly when it comes to robotics technology.