This well-written article discusses a patient suffering from delayed effects of radiation who received hyperbaric therapy treatment. The patient noticed improvements in pain levels and mobility, but doctors in the story warn that this treatment is unproven to help patients with delayed radiation injury and that this type of therapy tends to be overused.
Though it is gratifying to hear the patient’s words and the hope that this treatment has provided him, it actually isn’t clear whether the hyperbaric oxygen itself was the reason he got better. The “placebo” effect is well described in the medical literature and refers to sham treatments (fake surgery or pills) leading to benefit. It may also be that the treatment really did help but not for the reasons cited–maybe simply sitting still for hours helped tissues to heal. We do wish the story had explored this aspect more.
Overuse of unproven medical technologies poses risks to patients and adds to rising healthcare costs. An N of 1 does not prove that a technology works since there are so many other factors that could contribute to a patient seeing improvement over time.
The article discussed that Medicare covers the treatment at $450 for a two-hour session. There wasn’t a discussion about whether other insurance programs covered the treatment. It would have been helpful to know how much the entire treatment plan for the profiled patient cost and whether it was covered by his insurance.
The article was about one patient’s subjective account of pain relief. The only mention of evidence is by one of the doctors quoted, saying he did a literature search and found the evidence supporting this treatment to be “grim.” A quantitative assessment of that evidence would have been useful to include.
Although the article mentioned overuse of the treatment, there wasn’t an explicit mention of the type of harms associated with using hyperbaric therapy.
The article cautioned about the lack of evidence and rigorous medical studies supporting the use of hyperbaric chamber therapy outside of common uses (e.g., decompression sickness, burn healing). The article also mentioned how the results seen with the patient profiled are not commonly seen in patients with chronic late radiation effects.
The article did not commit disease mongering. It highlights the story of a desperate patient in a balanced way.
Besides the one reference to Kaiser Health News, all the sources had connections to the patient.
The article mentioned physical therapy and pain medication as standard treatment for delayed radiation effects on muscles and joints. It did a good job describing how challenging it can be to manage.
The article mentioned hyperbaric chambers are located in about 1,400 hospitals across the US. Given that Medicare also reimburses for hyperbaric therapy, access is probably relatively easy.
The article described that this is not a novel procedure and that hyperbaric therapy has been around since the 1900s.
It does not appear this story relied on a news release.