Q&A with Dr. Bill Palko-Schraa
Q: What does your new board certification include? Why did you pursue it?
Dr. Palko-Schraa: The Certificate of Added Qualification in Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine is a National Board Certification that is designated by the Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists. The board certification requires formal training, testing, and experience as well as successfully passing a national board certification exam.
I studied and worked to achieve this certification because I believe that in-depth training will enable me to provide the best possible care to my patients. I also want the professional community to be aware that our services are supervised by someone with National Board Certification and experience practicing genuine, scientifically-based, hyperbaric medicine.
Q: What is hyperbaric medicine and who do you treat?
Dr. Palko-Schraa: Hyperbaric medicine is the use of 100 percent oxygen for a prescribed time and pressure to achieve healing for certain indications. We treat patients for non-emergent problem wounds such as chronic bone infections, diabetic foot ulcers, failed skin graphs and flaps, as well as complications with trauma or surgery. We also treat such problems as delayed effects of radiation therapy including head and neck radiation coupled with required dental extractions. A national protocol was recently added to treat sudden deafness.
For all the indications we treat with hyperbarics, there is really nothing else in medicine that does what hyperbaric oxygen therapy does. It is miraculous for those patients who need it. It gives us the ability to save lives and limbs. Some practitioners elsewhere are offering what they call “hyperbaric oxygen” treatments, but only ours meets the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society standards.
Q: How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
Dr. Palko-Schraa: Hyperbaric medicine restores blood flow to tissues that have diminished to the point where they can’t heal on their own. When you introduce 100 percent oxygen at high pressure it saturates the tissues, stimulating the growth of new blood vessels in an area where otherwise this couldn’t happen. Over the course of treatment, the blood flow and circulation into the tissues improves, allowing healing to occur. Our Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Chambers, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, were the generous gift of Sherman and Sally Dugan; this was a tremendous contribution to the entire Four Corners community.
Q: What is undersea medicine? How did you get involved with it?
Dr. Palko-Schraa: Historically, hyperbaric medicine emerged from the realm of commercial and research diving that focused on the effects of being at depth in water, where pressure on the body is high. Classically, this involves strategies to prevent and treat decompression sickness or “the bends.” Because of this historical association between diving medicine and hyperbaric medicine, the certification for Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine is still linked.
My background also includes scuba diving and commercial abalone diving. I’ve also been exposed to the other side of gas pressure medicine—hypobaric or low air pressure—which includes high altitude functions that I studied in the Air Force. Specifically, the effects high altitude and the loss of pressure in an aircraft have on people.
During most of the last 25 years I have practiced family medicine. This has given me a broad perspective of what patients need from their physicians and their regional medical center. In the growing community need for quality wound care, I saw an opportunity to help serve and develop medical services that are and will become increasingly important. Well-run wound care including hyperbarics not only save lives and limbs, but also helps our medical system use resources efficiently.
Q: What services are offered at the Wound Treatment Center?
Dr. Palko-Schraa: I encourage anyone with a non-healing wound of any kind that has not improved for a month or more, to give us a call. We do not require a physician referral to be seen. However, your insurance may require a referral from your primary care provider. I also encourage people to call us if they have any of the previously described indications; we might be able to help with their healing. Our Wound Treatment Center is the only center of its kind in the Four Corners that offers modern hyperbaric medicine as defined by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society.
In addition to hyperbaric medicine we have a variety of cutting-edge products and services that improve the rate of successful wound healing for our patients. Statistically, our patient outcomes data are superior to national norms in dedicated wound care centers. I work to make our wound care treatment an effective part of care for the patient that includes the family, surgeons, primary care providers, other medical specialists, physical therapists, nutritionists, diabetic educators, home health services, and nursing home care. I encourage all community care providers to consider us an effective part of your team.