Crowdfunding as a Mechanism To Finance Healthcare Treatment
This week I watched a very moving interview on Mornin’ Barbados with Jaelle Goddard, discussing her journey as she navigates from diagnosis of cervical cancer to commencing her treatment in the United Kingdom. Jaelle’s story touched on a range of issues and challenges facing health care systems, especially in Barbados and the Caribbean. More often than before we are hearing about young person’s being diagnosed with cancer statistically many of the persons being diagnosed are young adults with higher digital literacy rates, thus they use social media platforms to share their stories and create awareness of diseases that we may not have necessarily been exposed to before.
During the interview, Jaelle highlighted several challenges she has encountered navigating the healthcare system - the length of time it took between the first set of symptoms to her being accurately diagnosed; the availability of treatment in the region, and the costs associated with beginning treatment.
While each point is valid and needs to be addressed, what really captured my attention as I watched her interview where she thanked persons who have supported her GoFundMe campaign, is how rapidly the use of crowdfunding platforms is being utilized to cover the costs of healthcare within low-, middle- and high-income countries. Jaelle is not the first person whose story has flashed across my social media platforms in recent months, seeking financial assistance. In fact, there seems to be a surge in popularity for medical crowdfunding, which is being fuelled by disparities in the healthcare system and gaps in health coverage and social safety-net systems.
But really what is crowdfunding and why is it becoming a viable financial option?
Crowdfunding is a way to raise funds for a specific cause or project by asking a large number of people to donate money. This approach to fundraising is mainly done online through social media platforms. Traditionally, organizations would hold cake sales, movie night events, or other activities to raise funds, but COVID-19 and the restriction of gatherings have created logistical challenges, so platforms such as GOFUNDME, Ketto, Back A Buddy, have flourished even more in the last few years, becoming billion-dollar industries.
It provides the opportunity to have a longer sustainable campaign as well as extends the reach of the cause into markets that were previously unavailable. While anyone can launch a crowdfunding campaign, persons who have a good background in social media, digitally literate, are knowledgeable about medicine, have large social networks, and most importantly have access to technology, generally raise more funds. So now we have to ask ourselves, do medical crowdfunding campaigns reveal and reinforce health and social inequities of the less privileged, with little or no access to these resources or skills but have the same needs. And if this is so, does this mean that technology and the use of crowdfunding is a social determinant of health?
Two of the main reasons persons use medical crowdfunding as a viable financial option are first, the characteristics of healthcare. This includes the availability of health care services, waiting time, referral patterns, and booking patterns. These “unmet” medical needs act as drivers for medical crowdfunding. Secondly, a feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, by individuals whose loved ones are in a medical crisis and are dependent on a healthcare system that seemingly has a nonchalant approach to its response, not by choice but by design.
I have personally stood by a loved one, watched and listened to them being told that a diagnostic appointment for a suspected tumour will take approximately three months at our leading health care institution. So, I understand the frustration and struggle of trusting a system that you have been taught to rely on, determining whether the length in wait times means there is no medical urgency, or deciding to become self-reliant and seek private care, then having to balance costs and budgets.
Sadly, Jaelle’s case will not be the last, as a cancer diagnosis is the most frequent motive for crowdfunding, and it is named for more than one-fourth of campaigns. As the second leading cause of disability worldwide, cancer places enormous financial, physical, and emotional strain on patients and families, and health systems. Now with the present economic challenges, these campaigns will become more commonplace in the region. We must now ask ourselves how we, as a society, can manipulate this technology, where it not only benefits the needs of the individual but the system in its entirety.
Government, businesses, and NGOs must now think outside the box as traditional methods of fundraising are slowly becoming obsolete. Platforms such as WATSI and Caring Crowd are now gaining prominence as easier ways of raising donations to target specific public health-related projects.
If you would like to support Jaelle, you can find more details on her GoFundMe Page:
Monique Lavine Hinds holds a BA in Psychology and an MSC in Health Care Management Honours. She is passionate about people and Healthcare in the region. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.