Shareholders of Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) have had plenty to celebrate in 2018. The robotic-surgery pioneer has seen its shares jump 44% so far this year, compared to just a 3% return for the S&P 500. The company's ability to consistently grow its existing market and expand into newer ones has been a hallmark of its success.

Investors will be looking for more of the same when Intuitive Surgical reports its third-quarter financial results on Tuesday, Oct. 18, after the market close. Let's review the company's recent results, and look at a few catalysts that could propel the stock to even greater heights.

Two surgeons sitting at consoles in an operating room, conducting robotic surgery, with nurses in attendance

Image source: Intuitive Surgical.

Consistent, impressive growth

For the second quarter, Intuitive Surgical produced revenue of $909 million, up 20% year over year, while adjusted earnings per share of $2.76 jumped 38% compared to the prior-year quarter. What's even more impressive is that expenses increased just 16%, when adjusting for a one-time charge related to litigation.

It isn't just the financial metrics that were inspiring, but also the solid operations that drove those results. Intuitive Surgical recorded an 18% year-over-year increase in procedures worldwide, notching 17% growth in the U.S., and 22% internationally. These robust results have encouraged the company to increase its guidance for procedure growth twice in as many quarters.

Another ongoing development has been the rise of recurring revenue as a percentage of the company's total sales. So far in 2018, instrument and accessory sales and service revenue accounted for 71% of Intuitive Surgical's total revenue. Sales of the company's da Vinci surgical system are difficult to predict, because of seasonality, government regulations, and budget cycles. Recurring revenue gives the company the ability to grow a predictable revenue stream, helping reduce the peaks and valleys that accompany lumpy system sales.

Things to watch this quarter

Intuitive Surgical received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for several products last quarter, with the most important being the da Vinci SP (single-port) surgical system, which can now be used for urologic surgical procedures. This lower-cost model will appeal to a wider range of practitioners than the full-sized model, but it's currently limited to certain procedures.

In light of its recent clearance, the company is seeking regulatory approval for additional procedures for the SP, including transoral, transanal, and extraperitoneal applications, which will no doubt increase the appeal of the device over time.

Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci Single-Port Surgical System.

Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci SP (single-port) surgical system recently received FDA clearance for urologic surgical procedures. Image source: Intuitive Surgical.

Just last month, Intuitive Surgical revealed that it had submitted a premarket notification to the FDA for its robotic-assisted platform for obtaining lung biopsies. In a press release, the company noted that "suspicious lesions found in the lung are small and difficult to access" and said "the company's new flexible robotic-assisted, catheter-based platform" is "designed to navigate through very small lung airways to reach peripheral nodules for biopsies."

Intuitive Surgical began work on the platform in September 2016, as part of a joint venture with Fosun Pharma, its distribution partner in China. As I wrote previously, the system "would deploy computer-controlled catheters, as well as advanced imaging and sensors, that would be used in the detection of lung cancer." 

Expect an update from the company on the progress of this important addition to its product portfolio.

What the future holds

Intuitive Surgical doesn't provide quarterly financial guidance, due to the previously outlined difficulty of predicting system sales. The company did update its guidance for the full year, and increased its forecast for procedure growth to a range of 14.5% to 16.5% for 2018. It continues to expect a pro forma gross profit margin of between 70% and 71.5% of net revenue, and annual expenses to grow in a range of 16% to 18% compared to 2017.

While investors shouldn't pay too much attention to the whims of Wall Street, they can help to provide context. Analysts' consensus estimates are for revenue of $918.23 million, an increase of 13.9% year over year, and earnings per share of $2.64, a decline of 4.7% compared to the prior-year quarter.

Intuitive Surgical continues to demonstrate the long runway ahead, as it expands its footprint into a broader range of procedures, and develops new products to meet additional opportunities. Considering the company's track record, this quarterly report will likely be another in a long line of better-than-expected performances.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.