Raising money and concerns – the rise of medical crowdfunding

20 November 2019
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Good health plays a crucial role in our overall quality of life. Although we can try to reduce our chances of experiencing a health issue through lifestyle choices, sometimes the unexpected happens and medical bills start to pile up.

Faced with expensive medical bills, an increasing number of people turn to medical crowdfunding hoping that it will help them finance their treatment. Since its appearance in the late 90s, crowdfunding has done nothing but grow and is now a multi-billion dollar industry in which medical-related campaigns have a prominent role.

The downsides of medical crowdfunding

While healthcare crowdfunding is an innovative system and may be helpful to some, it’s not without its downsides. Here’s a closer look at this industry and at three key issues to consider.

1. Reinforcing broken systems

People resort to crowdfunding when the healthcare system fails them, so these initiatives validate healthcare systems that are built on inequality whether directly or indirectly. In this sense, crowdfunding is only “a plaster on the wound” and doesn’t address the root causes that lead to people to financial difficulties. A superficial solution with no impact on social change.

2. Privacy sacrifices

Crowdfunding platforms require the disclosure of personal details, which may range from names to the specifics of the recipient’s medical and financial situation. Moreover, there’s an implied expectation that photos and updates will be published frequently during treatment. While it’s understandable that donors may expect this type of accountability, it also adds on the vulnerability of the recipient and their family. And as the popularity of crowdfunding continues to grow, so does the pressure to stand out, which may turn the situation into a competition for attention.

3. Unequal success

Lastly, medical crowdfunding has unequal success rates and may in fact benefit relatively privileged people with extended social networks. Research suggests that donors may have biases regarding the recipient’s gender, race, age, and social status, since these biases are as deeply embedded in online dynamics as they are in real life. Other studies claim that campaign success ultimately depends on the campaigner’s tech-savviness and connections, and that wealthier individuals seem to generate more engagement. Therefore, crowdfunding does little to tackle the barriers that keep socio-economic classes apart and in fact highlights the disparities in access to medical care, deepening socio-economic inequality.

Making it work for everyone

Health-related crowdfunding has helped people get the treatment they needed, but its ability to implement social change is very limited. These initiatives may perpetuate unfair or inefficient healthcare systems and social divides, and raise privacy concerns. That is of course, unless action is taken. Crowdfunding can be more accessible to everyone, irrespective of class or background, and privacy protection can be built into these campaigns.

Platforms can make an effort to build greater awareness among both campaigners and donors, to help them make informed decisions, and they can pledge to promote campaigns and distribute funds more equitably. Donors can also help make a difference by choosing transparent, non-profit medical crowdfunding platforms (such as Watsi) over their popular for-profit counterparts.

vision for the future

Considering that the market is still in its infancy, we have reasons to be optimistic and to believe that medical crowdfunding still has much potential to play a valuable role in improving the lives of people when they need it the most.


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Categories:   Feel at ease   Health
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