From the hairs on your head to the soles of your feet, every single cell in your body requires oxygen to survive. It fuels all living processes, including making energy, powering your muscles, and healing wounds.
Fortunately, every time you take a breath, you breathe in air that’s made up of about 21% of the precious resource. Then, it hitches a ride on your blood cells and travels throughout your entire body to get to work.
Most of the time, this is enough. But sometimes, your body would benefit from extra oxygen from a medical treatment called hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves entering a special pressure chamber that increases the amount of oxygen in your blood. That way, your cells can heal faster and more efficiently.
Even though it has many benefits, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a time commitment — albeit a worthwhile one. A standard treatment is two hours, usually done 5 days a week over a six-week period.
This commitment is one Dr. Zachary Gaskill, DO knows well. “I always tell patients, I can’t ask them to commit this amount of time to a therapy without knowing confidently that I have the opportunity to help them,” he says.
Dr. Gaskill practices hyperbaric therapy primarily at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), but he also works closely with physicians at Chester County Hospital (CCH). With the support of a major academic medical center and the convenience of a community-based hospital, patients across the Penn Medicine system can easily access this powerful treatment without any added hassle.
A Brief Explanation of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Zero needles, zero incisions, and a lot of oxygen — that’s the basis of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you’ll enter a hyperbaric chamber (which looks a bit like a spaceship). Inside this chamber, the air pressure is about two and a half times higher than normal, allowing your body to bring more oxygen to your cells.
More oxygen equals quicker healing for your organs and tissues. This stimulates the power of mitochondria — the powerhouse of the cells — and attracts stem cells (healing cells) to the area in need.
Not only does your body get more oxygen this way, but it also allows oxygen to go beyond the reach of your arteries. This further increases the healing powers of oxygen.
What’s more, if you’re taking antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can actually enhance the power of those antibiotics to improve healing.
Learn more about how hyperbaric oxygen therapy works.
Committing to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
According to Dr. Gaskill, the success of hyperbaric therapy relies heavily on continuous courses of therapy. This means that if you’re prescribed hyperbaric therapy, every therapy session is critical. Interruptions — or lapses in care — can have drawbacks, ranging from fewer benefits from therapy to completely missing the window in which hyperbaric medicine would be helpful.
However, this can be challenging for some patients due to busy schedules, where they live, and even what kind of care they need.
Enter the entire Penn Medicine System and its robust staff. “Continuous courses of therapy require a lot of either upfront coordination or ongoing coordination to maintain,” says Dr. Gaskill. “Patients are incredible at the amount of time and the amount of dedication they put into their treatment plan. When our staff can help with that condition, it’s really beneficial.”
How Penn Medicine and CCH Collaborate for Success
The Penn Medicine System offers four locations for hyperbaric medicine, including one right here in Chester County. Penn Hyperbaric Medicine is located at HUP’s main campus in downtown Pennsylvania, while Penn Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Chester County is located at The Wound Care Center in West Chester, PA.
The locations differ slightly in their hyperbaric medicine offerings. For instance, Penn Hyperbaric Medicine at HUP has a multiplace chamber, which allows a member of the care team to join a patient in the chamber. This can be helpful if they need to administer medication, such as an IV or antibiotics, during therapy.
The two locations work together like a well-oiled machine. As Dr. Gaskill says, the direction of coordination is very fluid. “The main source of workflow between the two are referrals based on what the patient would need,” he explains.
Patients are referred from one location to another for two primary reasons:
Continuation of care: A patient undergoes therapy as an inpatient (such as after surgery) at HUP, and they continue therapy closer to home at CCH.
- Escalation of care: A patient begins therapy at CCH, but their needs increase (such as needing a multiplace chamber), and they continue therapy at HUP.
Either direction patients move within the Penn Medicine hyperbaric medicine system, the process is seamless and greatly benefits patient outcomes.
Medical Director at Chester County Hospital Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Center, Dr. David D’Angelo, DO, shares, “Being part of a larger health-system allows us to share best practices, experiences, and knowledge to ensure that we are all providing the same high-standards of care no matter what location a patient is being seen at.”
“Patients can rest assured knowing they are going to a place where there’s consistent and ongoing communication,” adds Dr. Gaskill. “You have one facility handing off to another one in the system which is a very smooth and confidence-inspiring approach to care.”
The benefits of a vast health system go beyond the patient being treated, as well. Caregivers play a critical role in their loved ones' outcomes, but their time is valuable, too. “If you can provide treatments locally, it’s less stress on the patient, and it’s less stress on the support system. That may lead to continuous therapy and better outcomes,” says Dr. Gaskill.
Penn Medicine and Your Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Needs
If you’ve been prescribed hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you might feel overwhelmed at first. Penn Medicine is committed to easing this burden as much as possible.
“It is very unlikely for a patient who would benefit from hyperbaric [therapy] to not be able to receive it through Penn Medicine,” says Dr. Gaskill. “That is because of the availability to handle every type of case from emergent to outpatient elective cases with the appropriate facility. When you can keep all of that within the system, it streamlines records, follow-up visits, consults, and coordination with other providers.”
With multiple locations at their disposal, Penn Medicine physicians can make the best decision for patients. As Dr. Gaskill explains, “You’re not making a clinical decision based on a limited resource. You have every type available to you, and you can make the best call for the patient.”
Penn Medicine offers what Dr. Gaskill wishes were much more commonplace. As for patients in Pennsylvania, “It’s truly an asset that a lot of patients — even locally — can really reap the benefits of,” says Dr. Gaskill.
For Dr. Gaskill, the outcome is rewarding — both for his patients and himself. “The ability to have patients already do what they’re being prescribed, when you can take their current efforts and start to earn back and fight for those different benefits, it’s an incredible thing to see.”
Do you have questions about hyperbaric oxygen therapy? Contact the location nearest you
to learn how you can access the benefits of hyperbaric medicine close to home.