Virginia Listens: Dr. Helming's Story

Dr. Charles Helming, Orthopedics, Bainbridge Island

This feature is part of our “Virginia Listens” story series, which explores how our health care providers and patients are engaging in real conversations and individual connections that drive better care. Dr. Charles Helming of Virginia Mason Bainbridge Island Medical Center talked to us about how being part of the larger Virginia Mason system helps island residents enjoy both small-town life and world-class care.

Dr. Charles Helming practices general orthopedics in the small community of Bainbridge Island, but his expertise reaches far beyond the island for the people he serves. His secret? Continual, instant collaboration with his colleagues, both down the hall and across Puget Sound.

For example, when Dr. Helming recently saw a woman with a wrist facture, he was able to call a hand specialist at Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center, give him the patient’s medical record number, and ask him to view X-rays Dr. Helming had taken just minutes earlier. While looking at the images on their respective computers, the two doctors were able to quickly agree upon a successful treatment plan.

“That kind of integration is unique to Virginia Mason — I don’t think that’s happening other places,” said Dr. Helming. “It’s terrific to have that kind of instant access to not only orthopedic specialists but also the whole Virginia Mason system — laboratory data, X-ray data, any patient record.”

Dr. Helming has worked at Virginia Mason Bainbridge Island in a non-surgical orthopedic capacity for a decade. He was an orthopedic surgeon previously for 20 years and then came out of retirement for this new role, one that has proved well suited to his needs and the needs of island residents.

Bainbridge residents with arthritis and other joint health issues can go to Dr. Helming for treatments that either delay surgery or provide alternatives. If a patient does need surgery at Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center, Dr. Helming provides all pre- and post-operative care, and works closely with surgeons to make the transition as seamless as possible.

“It’s cumbersome for patients, especially older ones, to go to Seattle all the time. So they are very grateful to minimize that and have all their follow-ups close to home,” said Dr. Helming. “Plus I don’t have to commute for my job, either, which is wonderful.”

Dr. Helming is surrounded by a group of primary care providers and other specialists at Bainbridge, so he’s also able to steer patients toward other resources they need. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping them make appointments, and other times it’s just running down the hall to ask a colleague a question.

“It’s OK to admit you don’t have all the answers. I think patients find that reassuring in a sense, especially if I can tell them that someone else at Virginia Mason can help,” said Dr. Helming. “That’s a great advantage to working at Bainbridge. The relationships are immediate, which makes things fun.”

Dr. Helming sees this collaboration only growing stronger as Virginia Mason Bainbridge Island Medical Center ramps up its urgent care practice and adds other specialties to better serve its aging population.

“On an island, geography will always is our biggest challenge, but between our growing operations and electronic records, people can get most of their non-surgical care without going across the water. And being tied into the larger Virginia Mason system, well — no other Bainbridge clinic has the extended resources we have to offer.”

Added Dr. Helming, “This is a great community with a wonderful spectrum of people, who by and large are strongly invested in their well-being, and sophisticated about that. They’re looking for real partners in their care, and I think we definitely provide that.”