What Medical Crowdfunding Campaigns Can Tell Us About Local Health System Gaps and Deficiencies: Exploratory Analysis of British Columbia, Canada

Snyder J., Zenone M., Crooks V., Schuurman N.
Academic Journal
Journal of Medical Internet Research
22(5): e16982
January 2020


There are a range of perceived gaps and shortcomings in the publicly funded Canadian health system. These include wait times for care, lack of public insurance coverage for dental care and pharmaceuticals, and difficulties accessing specialist care. Medical crowdfunding is a response to these gaps where individuals raise funds from their social networks to address health-related needs.


This study aimed to investigate the potential of crowdfunding data to better understand what health-related needs individuals are using crowdfunding for, how these needs compare with the existing commentary on health system deficiencies, and the advantages and limitations of using crowdfunding campaigns to enhance or augment our understanding of perceived health system deficiencies.


Crowdfunding campaigns were scraped from the GoFundMe website. These campaigns were then limited to those originating in the metropolitan Vancouver region of two health authorities during 2018. These campaigns were then further limited to those raising funds to allow the treatment of a medical problem or related to needs arising from ill health. These campaigns were then reviewed to identify the underlying health issue and motivation for pursuing crowdfunding.


We identified 423 campaigns for health-related needs. These campaigns requested CAD $8,715,806 (US $6,088,078) in funding and were pledged CAD $3,477,384 (US $2,428,987) from 27,773 donors. The most common underlying medical condition for campaign recipients was cancer, followed by traumatic injuries from collisions and brain injury and stroke. By far, the most common factor of motivation for crowdfunding was seeking financial support for wages lost because of illness (232/684, 33.9%). Some campaigns (65/684, 9.5%) sought help with purchasing medical equipment and supplies; 8.2% (56/684) sought to fund complementary, alternative, or unproven treatments including experimental interventions; 7.2% (49/684) sought financial support to cover travel-related costs, including in-province and out-of-province (49/684, 7.2%) travel; and 6.3% (43/684) campaigns sought help to pay for medication.


This analysis demonstrates the potential of crowdfunding data to present timely and context-specific user-created insights into the perceived health-related financial needs of some Canadians. Although the literature on perceived limitations of the Canadian health system focuses on wait times for care and limited access to specialist services, among other issues, these campaigners were much more motivated by gaps in the wider social system such as costs related to unpaid time off work and travel to access care.

Our findings demonstrate spatial differences in the underlying medical problems, motivations for crowdfunding, and success using crowdfunding that warrants additional attention. These differences may support established concerns that medical crowdfunding is most commonly used by individuals from relatively privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. We encourage the development of new resources to harness the power of crowdfunding data as a supplementary source of information for Canadian health system stakeholders.