We hear this comment from patients who learn about the availability of hyperbaric medicine every day. It is never a bad thing to ask your regular physician about many concerns such as diet choices, potential allergies, medications (particularly combinations of medications and/or supplements), and a wide range of issues that can affect your health. But it is also important for patients to understand that this single source of information “My Physician” is limited by a number of factors. These include more than just where they went to school and how much reading they do currently regarding new scientific literature. Physicians are people too. That means the decision they make to recommend or discourage a particular choice can be influenced by factors unrelated to established medical science. Interpersonal relationships with peers in the community can sway whether a doctor recommends a particular specialist—even if the other physician is the only specialist of that kind in the community (and they’re one you need). “I don’t like that doctor,” can literally be a reason why you or your loved one doesn’t get to hear about a specialist who happens to be highly trained and skilled at resolving your problem.
It is difficult to keep up with all the advancements in medical science within your field of clinical focus, much less studies that are changing recommendations for clinical practice for a specialty outside that of your physician. In the case of hyperbaric medicine, 30 medical colleges out of ~160 nationwide offer hyperbaric medicine (HBO) as an offered clinical specialty (16 of 30 offer fellowships in the field). That means there’s a ~85% probability your physician literally knows little more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy than you do. In those cases it is difficult for a provider to say, “Yes, I recommend it,” when a patient or their loved one inquires about the effectiveness of the treatment. We have spoken with countless patients experiencing late effects of radiation whose problems are clear indications for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Many of these patients want to ask their physician (who has not been educated on the literature and treatment protocols for HBO) about HBO before they undergo treatment. Many times we never see the patient again because they were told it doesn’t work or it’s not appropriate for their situation. This incorrect advice is akin to asking your cardiologist if the chemotherapy drug an oncologist is recommending is the right choice.
As patients it is vital that you become a minor expert in your disease/illness/injury. Seek out second opinions. While there is much “bad” information on the internet there is also a large amount of excellent information a curious patient can find about nearly every problem a patient is experiencing. In the case of HBO, a specialty-trained physician in an accredited hyperbaric medicine program can point you in the direction of reliable, accurate information that discusses the indications for HBO, how it works, and when it should be considered based on scientific medical studies. The patients who should consider HBO are facing serious challenges–diabetics can undergo amputations that could be prevented by HBO. Cancer survivors can experience significant decreased quality of life related to pain, bleeding, or non-healing wounds/infections in the area where they received radiation during cancer treatment. These patients deserve to have ACCURATE information regarding HBO and when it should be considered.
When a physician recommends HBO for your problem that’s related to previous radiation therapy or a wound that isn’t healing (particularly if you are a diabetic), ask where you can go to get more information. If you DO ask your regular physician or specialist about HBO, you need to also ask how much literature on the subject they have studied. Because if you are told that HBO is not appropriate for late effects of radiation or a chronic diabetic ulcer, you’re asking someone who doesn’t know any more about the topic than you do. Be your own best advocate and get educated about whatever health issue you are facing and don’t hesitate to keep asking questions because in the end it is you that has to deal with the final outcome.