A two year old waiting for a cell transplant. A mother of two battling with cancer. A hit and run victim struggling to recover and a 92 year old man brutally punched in the face. These represent just a mere fraction of the growing number of Americans who turn to crowdfunding to pay for their medical bills.
In a country whose motto is ‘get rich on your own or shut up and die alone’ and where 40 percent of the citizens cannot cover a $400 medical expense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more and more people go online in hopes of convincing strangers that their plight is worthy of compassion… and a donation.
GoFuneMe has become a popular hub of crowdfunding for medical expenses among Americans. According to Rob Solomon, the company’s CEO, 1 in every 3 of the website’s crowdfunding campaigns seeks to cover medical bills. While the company has thus far declined to reveal precisely how many such campaigns there are, a visit to its webpage indicates that the numbers are staggering, and cover a wide range of medical ailments and emergencies—from cancer-related operations and organ transplants to car accidents and gunshot wounds. According to the Outline, the cumulative goal of GoFundMe’s medical campaigns reaches nearly $140 million.
The issue has gained national attention after several cases of people gathering donations for medical expenses online went viral and resulted in a public outcry. One of these people was Hedda, a woman who needed a heart transplant and was rejected as a candidate by her clinic due to her lack of a “secure financial plan.” The clinic then recommended that Hedda resort to crowdfunding to cover the costs of her operation. After posting a copy of the rejection letter on Twitter, Hedda was lucky enough to win the attention of thousands across the country, as well as a retweet by recently elected House of Representatives member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. As one may predict, no one goes ignored while on the Ocasio Cortez train, and so Hedda’s campaign ended up exceeding its initial goal by more than $10,000. Alas, the overwhelming majority of campaigns do not go viral or get a boost from rising political stars. Which begs the questions, what happens to those who do not reach their goal?
Launching GoFundMe campaigns as a source of medical support is a result of multiple ills in the country’s structure, including crippling corporate greed and a failed healthcare system. Despite the fact that the U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, it nonetheless ranks last in healthcare quality among developed nations. While the situation improved slightly following the passing of the Obama Care Act, the are still roughly 28 million Americans who have no health coverage at all. Furthermore, even those who do have insurance often fail to have their medical needs met and bills covered due to bureaucratic challenges, exorbitant co-pay requirements and inadequate healthcare plans.
How can the U.S. get out of this mess? Some say that a blue Congress in the new year will mean good news for the millions of Americans who pray to go viral in order to cover their medical expenses. Representatives such as incoming Alexandria Ocasio Cortez from New York are fighting hard for single payer health coverage, and seeing as healthcare constituted the linchpin of the November midterm elections and was the issue that restored the Democrats’ control of the House, some are hopeful that their efforts will bear healthcare fruits.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that a fair and functioning healthcare system could be a reality in America. It’s obvious that through reallocation of resources and addressing the obstacles head-on (such as big pharma lobbying and tax cuts to the wealthy that come at the expanse of social programmes), Americans can establish a proper healthcare mechanism that doesn’t pale in comparison to its counterparts in other developed nations.
Yet, an exhaustive reshaping of healthcare policy will only occur in tandem with a sweeping shift in the nation’s collective psyche as far as social benefits are concerned. For changes to be reflected on a governmental level, and for sufficient pressure to be exerted against pharma gargoyles and big donor leeches, the public must first become (at least somewhat) united in its conviction that a government for the people, and by the people, is responsible to grant its citizens basic services such as access to quality healthcare. It’s a simple matter of determining whether the country views one’s aspiration to lead a life of dignity and health as a human right or a privilege.
You’ve heard of social media influencers, but have you ever heard of a social media influencer among the gastroenterology community? Probably not, and yet it is certainly a thing. Dr Austin Chiang is a gastroenterologist who studied at Harvard, but he also is the first Chief Medical Social Media Officer at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia. In other words, part of his job is to get doctors and other health professionals on social media to drown out health misinformation by posting large quantities of posts that are fact checked and, well, not fake. The idea of doctors having a presence on social media sounds unconventional at first, so it makes sense that people might wonder why exactly Dr Chiang’s job was created.
Just like fake news, fake health news come mainly from social media accounts sharing information that is not based on any medical research. And just like much of the speculative and factually inaccurate content shared on social networks, many people ultimately believe it. This is where Dr Chiang’s accounts come as a remedy. His main platform is Instagram but you can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On Instagram, Dr Chiang has more than 22,000 followers—making him the most followed medical influencer outside the world of plastic surgery and nutritional well-being—and his content represents his two favourite things: medicine and social media.
Every few days Dr Chiang posts a picture of himself with captions about the latest research or advice to patients trying to navigate between real information and rumours. And where do those rumours come from? According to Dr Chiang, from public figures like the 1.9 million Instagram followers and #1 NY Times Bestselling Author Anthony William, also known as the Medical Medium, famous for his book Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine Of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide.
When looking at William’s online presence, especially his Instagram account, many questions come to mind, mainly how someone with no medical background has harnessed so much credibility by the public. William’s entire Instagram feed looks like a bad infomercial for a blender or an eczema miracle cream and the consistent use of #healing makes for a cocktail of unease and suspicion. Call me crazy, but I’d like to think that if you proclaim yourself as a ‘medical medium’ without any diploma to show for yourself, you are most likely a crook that sees himself as a spiritual saviour.
Anti-vaccination content is another example of fake health news spreading through social media, with communities and groups preaching to anyone willing to believe that vaccination causes autism—a theory that has never been medically proven. Some people go as far as giving a ‘cure’ for autism in the form of an industrial-strength bleach.
Bearing witness to this kind of content online, Dr Chiang’s CEO Steve Klasko came up with the idea of creating a well-needed medical presence on social media with the help of Dr Chiang’s Instagram and hashtags like #verifyhealthcare and #dontgoviral. The solution to this frightening misinformation is providing young people with the right information, and allowing them to access it easily, which means publishing it on social media, where it is known that under 35s spend a large chunk of their time and where they get their news and information.
At the moment, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s goal is to have approximately 3,000 doctors participating on social media, which sounds like a good start. Help from the government (or social media companies like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) in regulating false information could also soon be a necessity. Until then, don’t believe everything you read on the internet and please stay away from Medical Medium.