Policy easing both boon and bane for da Vinci surgical robot in China

VB Data predicted in its study that lower-tier markets will lead the way in purchasing this equipment and as a result are likely to become a new front in the competition between surgical kit providers.

VB Data, a healthcare-focused media outlet, reported recently that laparoscopic surgical robots have increasingly made their way to topnotch public hospitals in China’s third- and fourth-tier cities in ever larger numbers.

This is despite the fact that these robots often carry a price tag to the tune of tens of millions of yuan.

According to a study by VB Data, dozens of cities including Chongqing in China’s southwest, Baoji in the northwest and Huanggang in central China have all announced purchases of surgical robots in recent months, most of them the world-famous da Vinci surgical platform developed by Intuitive Surgical.

The growing import of surgical robots is attributed to several reasons, first and foremost a relaxation in China’s curbs on the quota of laparoscopic surgical robots allowed under its three-tier public hospital system.

China’s public hospital hierarchy consists of Class-A institutions at the top, district-level hospitals in the middle and community healthcare centers at the bottom.

In the past, only leading provincial- or municipal-level public hospitals are entitled to procure laparoscopic surgical robots.

But now the barriers have significantly come down as hospitals with “strong comprehensive surgical abilities” also are qualified to install a da Vinci surgical system, or its local equivalent, according to a new document issued by China’s National Health Commission on April 13.

Exactly which constitute “comprehensive surgical abilities” is a criterion cnrobopedia has yet to find out.

Somehow, amid an easing of policy restrictions, laparoscopic robots are poised to experience a spike in demand, industry observers pointed out.

VB Data predicted in its study that lower-tier markets will lead the way in purchasing this equipment and as a result are likely to become a new front in the competition between surgical kit providers.

Market intelligence indicates that the market potential of China’s lower-tier cities is no less strong than in first-tier cities, due to their immense population and scale.

By the end of 2019, 4,400 out of 2,3735 public hospitals in China were able to conduct minimally invasive surgeries, among them 1,400 are Class-A hospitals.

A big chunk of them are located in China’s inland provinces or local prefectures. Nonetheless, among some 300 installations of da Vinci surgical platforms nationwide, most are at provincial-level hospitals, meaning that there are huge unmet needs in lower-tier markets.

Market entrants have also changed, with a host of domestic competitors joining in the surgical robot mania to challenge da Vinci’s market domination.

Local players like MicroPort (微创医疗), Edge Medical (精峰医疗), Shurui (术锐机器人) and Harbin Sagebot (思哲睿医疗) have turned up the heat on Intuitive Surgical, the developer of da Vinci, giving it a run for its money, VB Data noted.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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