My friend Tom Workman just published this article in Today’s Wound Clinic about the use of portable (inflatable) chambers – and it’s a must read. The bottom line is that these chambers are not FDA approved for use with oxygen, and don’t meet the required safety standards for pressure vessels that provide compressed oxygen. They were invented to treat altitude sickness and they work well for that purpose. Since our first responsibility is to “do no harm,” practitioners should not use these portable chambers to treat patients (unless they have altitude sickness) and if you do, you are probably breaking a several laws (depending on various factors discussed in the article).

If our next responsibility is to practice ethically, then we don’t know whether the pressures these inflatable chambers achieve provides any therapeutic benefit. I’ve talked about the math of hyperbaric oxygen therapy before. You can get more oxygen sitting in a room breathing 100% oxygen from a home oxygen tank than you can inside a portable chamber compressed with AIR. (We just established that they should not be compressed with oxygen for fire safety reasons). Assuming that they COULD be used with oxygen, then the jury is still out on whether the low pressures that they achieve actually helps anyone.

I don’t have a dog in the fight about unproven indications. I just want patients to be safe and to ensure that they are told truthfully whether they are getting anything for their money. Insurance carriers will not pay for a “hyperbaric treatment” provided with a portable chamber. If insurance is billed for a currently covered condition like a diabetic foot ulcer, then it’s fraudulent billing. If patients pay cash, they should be told that no one knows if the treatment will help them.

Check out Tom’s article.