Medical Crowdfunding

Since 2014, I have been working with Lauren Berliner to study the use of medical crowdfunding in the United States. For Americans experiencing chronic and acute illnesses, fundraising through crowdsourcing websites has become a popular method to pay for the extraordinary costs of health care and medication. This project studies these new forms of self-representation from the perspectives of public health, medical anthropology, and media and communication studies. Our collaboration explores how digital humanities can illuminate emerging illness experiences and the ways that citizens navigate gaps in the US health care system. How do such media forums alter and reinforce social determinants of health? How do they legitimize neoliberal notions of self-marketing and individual responsibility for survival? How do patients and families engage with this new digital space to solicit new forms of care and support?

Our first paper on this new topic, “Producing a Worthy Illness: Personal Crowdfunding Amidst Financial Crisis,” was published in Social Science and Medicine in 2017. Our work for this was funded and supported by the Simpson Center for the Humanities. As part of this project, we held a symposium at the University of Washington on Crowdsourcing Care which was written up for the journal Medicine, Anthropology, Theory.

I am also continuing research looking at global health crowdfunding websites, a project which connects with, and leverages, my interests in the politics and policy implications of global health funding and delivery models.  I recently published a paper in Medicine Anthropology Theory on Watsi, a global health crowdfunding platform, titled “Drone Philanthropy? Global Health Crowdfunding and the Anxious Futures of Partnership.”

Because of its relevance to ongoing debates about health insurance and health care access in the US, our work on crowdfunding has garnered local and national press attention. Some of those news stories are linked below. For press inquiries, please contact myself at njk8 at uw dot edu, or lsb26 at uw dot edu. A news brief about the paper and the project on which it is based is available here: “The Moral Failure of Crowdfunding.”