Healthcare stocks have been some of the best-performing equities over the last two decades. During this period, the sector has benefited from a slew of tailwinds, such as the broader access to health insurance among economically disadvantaged patients both domestically and abroad; an unprecedented innovation boon within the pharmaceutical and medtech segments; and an aging global population that's been driving a surge in demand for healthcare products and services. The best part of this story for investors is that healthcare should remain a solid place to earn potentially market-beating returns for decades to come.

Which healthcare stocks should every investor own heading into the next decade? Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) and Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) are arguably the cream of the crop when it comes to healthcare stocks right now. Here's what investors need to know about these two titans of the healthcare sector.

Wooden blocks with various healthcare symbols being stacked into a pyramid on a wooden surface.

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Intuitive Surgical: A medtech giant 

Since going public in 2000, robotic surgery giant Intuitive Surgical has seen its shares surge by an astounding 9,140%. While this enormous return on capital might seem unreal at first glance, the market's outright love affair with this top medtech stock does have a solid rationale behind it.

Namely, Intuitive sports a virtual monopoly when it comes to minimally invasive, robotically assisted soft tissue procedures. The company's dominance in this high-value space stems from the breakout success of its flagship device known as the da Vinci Surgical System. The da Vinci system first made its commercial debut 20 years ago, in 1999. Since then, Intuitive has built up a base of 5,270 da Vinci systems installed worldwide, making it the most popular robotic surgery system of any kind.

This broad installation base is key to the company's underlying investing thesis for a few reasons. Chief among them is the simple fact that implementing a new system is extremely costly in terms of the up-front cash outlay, as well as the time it takes to train staff. Put bluntly, there aren't many hospitals that can justify switching to a competing device at this stage of the game.

As a result, Intuitive is widely expected to build on this first-mover advantage to maintain its competitive moat over the broader field for decades to come. So, even though Intuitive's shares are undoubtedly expensive at 39.5 times forward earnings, the stock's rich premium is worth the price of admission.

Vertex: A top rare-disease drugmaker

Vertex is the undisputed king in terms of treating the genetically based lung disease cystic fibrosis. Underscoring this point, the company recently got the green light from the FDA for its fourth cystic fibrosis medication known as Trikafta, shoring up its dominance over this multibillion-dollar market for at least the next decade.

Trikafta is forecast to haul in over $6.6 billion in sales by 2025, but its peak sales may ultimately top a whopping $10 billion in the latter half of the 2020s. The take-home point is that Vertex's annual sales should -- at a bare minimum -- double from current levels over the course of the next decade, thanks to its juggernaut cystic fibrosis franchise.

Nonetheless, Vertex has still been working toward expanding well beyond the realm of cystic fibrosis. For example, the biotech has fostered a close partnership with the gene-editing company CRISPR Therapeutics over the past few years, which has the potential to lead to the development of several game-changing therapies for rare diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, beta thalassemia, and sickle cell disease. Each of these orphan indications is a blockbuster sales opportunity.

The only downside with Vertex is that its stock is one of the most highly valued within the healthcare sector at 31.1 times forward earnings. That said, Vertex's shares are probably grossly undervalued at current levels if you take the long view. This biotech, after all, could possibly quadruple its annual revenue by the end of the next decade -- especially if this collaboration with CRISPR bears fruit.