Nearly one year ago, I predicted that Intuitive Surgical (ISRG 1.62%) was headed for a stock split. My view was that it was a matter of when and not if. Sure enough, last week, the robotic surgical-systems pioneer announced a 3-for-1 stock split is on the way.

That prediction didn't require deep analytical skills or foresight, to be honest. Intuitive Surgical has split its stock in the past. I'm surprised it took the company's board as long as it did to approve another split.

The idea behind stock splits is that they make shares more attractive to smaller investors. Sometimes -- although not always -- splits even serve as positive catalysts for stocks. Is Intuitive Surgical stock a buy before its stock split?

Healthcare professionals using da Vinci robotic surgical system.

Image source: Intuitive Surgical.

Not so fast

Don't jump the gun just yet. Intuitive Surgical's stock split must first be approved by shareholders. The special meeting for this vote isn't scheduled until Sept. 20, 2021. However, I expect that the amendment for the 3-for-1 stock split will sail through with overwhelming support.

Assuming that shareholders approve the stock split, there's still plenty of time to buy Intuitive Surgical shares. Shareholders of record as of the close of business on Sept. 27 will receive two additional shares for each share they own as of that date. Intuitive expects that trading on a split-adjusted basis will begin on Oct. 5.

It's possible that waiting to buy the healthcare stock is a smart strategy anyway. Intuitive Surgical CEO Gary Guthart said in the company's second-quarter conference call in July, "The pandemic is not behind us, and additional infection growth may again strain hospital resources and impact our results in the future."

Those words seem prescient now. COVID-19 cases are rising across the U.S. and in other countries due to the delta variant. Some hospitals are delaying elective procedures as they did earlier in the pandemic. As Guthart stated, this could negatively impact Intuitive Surgical's revenue.

The best perspective

However, my experience is that trying to time the purchase of a stock because of what you think might happen often doesn't work out very well. You can be right about what will happen but be way off on the exact timing -- and miss out on nice gains in the process.

The best perspective is the long-term one. If you think that Intuitive Surgical's long-term prospects are strong, buying now is a good idea. Count me in the group that believes the company's long-term prospects are very good.

Robotic surgical systems such as Intuitive's da Vinci give surgeons more fine-tuned control over the movement of surgical instruments. They also provide magnified visibility for the incision area. Intuitive Surgical can cite case study after case study that shows this leads to improved surgical outcomes.

The company's robotic surgical systems are on track to be used in more than 1.5 million procedures this year. That's only a fraction of the 6 million procedures for which its systems already have regulatory clearances. Intuitive Surgical estimates that there are another 14 million soft tissue procedures on top of that number for which its technology could be used in the future.

A more important split

There is a more important split that could impact Intuitive Surgical than its upcoming stock split. I'm referring to the potential of the company having to split market share with rivals.

Both Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -1.82%) and Medtronic (MDT 1.12%) now have robotic surgical systems on the market. These companies are healthcare giants with deep pockets. Could they give Intuitive Surgical a run for its money? Maybe, but I'm not worried.

Intuitive's current customers have a financial incentive to maximize their return on investment -- not just of money but also of time in training surgeons. They're unlikely to switch to a rival.

J&J and Medtronic could attract customers who are new to robotic surgery. However, neither company will be able to point to the extensive track record that Intuitive can. 

I think that Intuitive Surgical will be able to hold its own against the competition. And I also expect that the stock will rise to the point in the future that the company will again resort to a stock split. But I'll leave any predictions of the timing to others.