What is robot-assisted surgery?

In robot-assisted surgery, the surgeon sits at a console a few feet away from your child and looks at a 3-D video screen. Using hand and foot pedals, the surgeon controls 3 or 4 robotic arms.

  • One arm is a 3-D camera. The camera sends pictures to the video screen.
  • The other 2 or 3 arms hold tiny surgical tools at their tips. The surgeon inserts the tools through small cuts ("keyhole" incisions) in your child's chest, belly or pelvis to do your child's surgery.

The robotic arms can move in more ways than a human wrist. They let the surgeon make very precise, complex motions that are not possible without the robot. With the robot's help, we can offer more types of surgeries for more children who need them. Even children who are very small.

Robot-assisted surgery is a type of minimally invasive procedure or laparoscopic surgery. Your child will have smaller scars than from open surgery, which uses a longer incision. Your child is likely to heal faster with less pain and go home from the hospital sooner.

What’s special about robot-assisted surgery at Seattle Children's?

Seattle Children's is a world leader in robotic surgery. 

    • Our surgeons have done more robot-assisted procedures in general and urology surgery for children than anywhere else in the world. More cases mean greater surgical expertise and better outcomes.
    • Dr. John Meehan is regarded as the leading world expert in robotics for pediatric general surgery.
    • We are pioneers in robotic surgery on children. Surgeons on our team have been operating with robots since 2002. We use a da Vinci robot.
    • How your child’s pain is managed after surgery is key to their healing. We have the largest team of anesthesiologists who treat only children.
  • Our expertise means we can use the robot for more than 50 types of procedures – more than any other hospital on the planet.

    At most hospitals, the youngest children have the fewest surgery options. Their small size makes it hard to do laparoscopic surgery. To get to the right tissues and move their tools well, most surgeons do open surgeries. At Seattle Children's, our expert surgeons can use the robot with some of these small patients.

  • Our team works on many fronts to improve robot-assisted surgery:

    • We track the results of robotic surgery in children so we can improve techniques.
    • Dr. Thomas Lendvay studies the effectiveness of crowd sourcing reviewers to assess the robotic surgery skills of trainees and help them improve. In 2018 he was named the University of Washington’s Medical Inventor of the Year.
    • We work with the industry to develop technology that improves care for children.
    • Our surgeons travel the world teaching robotic surgery to teams in other countries.

Who can benefit from robotic surgery?

Your child’s surgeon will consider all possible methods and recommend the best one for your child. Robot-assisted surgery is used for many procedures in the chest, belly and pelvis. Seattle Children's General Surgery and Urology teams have used the robot to:

  • Remove tumors and other unknown masses
  • Take out gallbladders
  • Do complex surgery on the liver
  • Repair the bowels
  • Fix problems with the esophagus, including causes of gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
  • Repair blocked kidneys
  • Stop backflow of urine into the kidneys

Contact Us

Contact our General and Thoracic Surgery Department at 206-987-2794 for an appointment, a second opinion or more information.

To make an appointment, you can call us directly or ask your child’s primary care provider to refer you. We encourage you to coordinate with your primary care provider when coming to Seattle Children’s.

We see patients in clinic in Bellevue, Everett, Federal Way, Seattle and Tri-Cities.

Providers, see how to refer a patient.