Not Alternative Medicine, Just Good Medicine

Not Alternative Medicine, Just Good Medicine

Julian Whitaker, MD

For more than 30 years, I’ve done my best to practice good medicine. I dislike the term “alternative medicine” because virtually everything in conventional medicine was at one time alternative.

In England more than 200 years ago, Dr. William Withering began using leaves of the foxglove plant to treat patients with congestive heart failure. His paper, An Account of the Foxglove and Some of Its Medical Uses, led to widespread utilization of digitalis, a foxglove derivative, which continues to be used in the treatment of heart disease today.

In 1847, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis made the connection between hygiene and the spread of disease when he observed high rates of puerperal, or “childbed,” fever when physicians did not wash their hands after performing autopsies before delivering babies. Semmelweis was ridiculed for promoting a practice that is now strictly enforced.

Alternative and unconventional then, but commonsense, good medicine now.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Should Be Routinely Used

I’ve noticed over the past three decades that good medicine is becoming harder and harder to find. Regulatory activity and the control of medicine by third parties such as insurance companies, Medicare, and HMOs are shifting focus away from optimal patient care.

Nowhere is this more evident than in hospitals. Yes, hospitals do some things well. However, I am extremely concerned about the unwillingness to use simple treatments that could dramatically improve patient outcomes. One of these treatments is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).

HBOT involves breathing 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber. This allows oxygen to dissolve in the plasma and other fluids, making it easily accessible to all tissues in the body. It is an exceptionally effective therapy that increases circulation, facilitates new blood vessel growth, and boosts the production of growth factors necessary for healing. It even helps stop the spread of infection because anaerobic bacteria cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment.

We routinely use HBOT at Whitaker Wellness to treat stubborn infections such as non-healing diabetic ulcers (and have saved many a limb from recommended amputation) and to facilitate post-surgical healing in patients who have had facelifts and other procedures. HBOT is safe, relatively inexpensive, and many hospitals have hyperbaric chambers. However, you just can’t get most doctors to use it. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Tragedy Could Have Been Avoided

About three years ago, I wrote an article about brown recluse spider bites. In some cases, these bites lead to necrotic skin lesions that may not respond to steroids or antibiotics, and several deaths have been attributed to these spiders. I suggested that anyone bitten by a venomous spider should get to a hyperbaric chamber as soon as possible because this therapy is very effective in arresting and healing these wounds.

A few weeks later, a Health & Healing subscriber called and informed me that a neighbor’s six-year-old child was hospitalized with a spider bite and was in intensive care. I recommended HBOT and tried to set the family up with a practitioner in the area. The boy’s physicians just wouldn’t do it. After numerous phone calls, the doctors began to relent, saying, “Maybe we’ll follow him over the weekend and if he’s not better, we’ll consider hyperbaric.” Sadly, the child died that Sunday.

Hyperbaric Would Have Been Helpful

Just last month, a healthy 28-year-old woman noticed a tender, swollen area on her thigh. She wasn’t sure what caused it, but it became so painful, and the redness and heat spread so fast, that she went to her local emergency room and was promptly admitted to the hospital. Whether this was caused by a spider bite or a serious infection, hyperbaric oxygen would have certainly been helpful.

I talked with the young woman’s physician, who was not only familiar with hyperbaric oxygen but was the head of the hyperbaric unit at the hospital. He disagreed with my suggestion to use HBOT, reasoning that Medicare did not cover this therapy for generalized wound infections. (The Medicare reference was ridiculous—the patient wasn’t even 30 years old!)

I offered to provide hyperbaric oxygen here at the clinic, but the physician refused to discharge the patient. She ended up in the hospital for four days, being treated with IV antibiotics and lancing/draining of the wound. She was discharged on oral antibiotics with a one-inch hole in her leg that required ongoing wound care by the doctor. She recovered eventually, but I am absolutely convinced that a course of HBOT would have dramatically facilitated her healing.

Denied by His Doctor

That same week, I had a call from a subscriber in Maryland who was beside herself. Her 84-year-old husband was in the hospital with a non-healing wound and osteomyelitis, a severe bacterial infection in the bones of his foot—a condition for which Medicare does cover the use of hyperbaric oxygen.

So here we have a patient hospitalized with an infection that could substantially benefit from HBOT, and Medicare would be willing to pay for it. But guess what? The physician still wouldn’t use it!

It is this kind of attitude and behavior that makes me embarrassed to be a physician. Virtually all of the “alternative” therapies and treatments we use to help people here at the clinic could be used in hospitals—but they’re not. I just don’t see how some people survive hospital medicine.


  • Your best defense as a patient is to be informed. Know your options and don’t be afraid to talk to you doctor and ask questions. Hospital stays can be frightening, but you can protect yourself by being proactive and making sure that you and your physician are using all available options and acting with your best interests in mind.
  • HBOT can be used to treat myriad health conditions from wound healing to brain trauma to stroke recovery. To schedule an appointment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (866) 944-8253.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2007. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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