More than 1,000 online crowdfunding campaigns raised about $6.8 million for five unproven and potentially risky medical treatments between 2015 and 2017, says a study published in October 2018 in JAMA.
Patients involved in the campaigns, mostly on GoFundMe, sought funds for homeopathy and naturopathy for cancer, hyperbaric oxygen therapy for brain injury, experimental stem-cell therapy for brain injury or spinal cord injury, and long-term antibiotics for chronic Lyme disease. None of these therapies are backed up by evidence, putting potential patients at risk for ineffective and sometimes dangerous treatments.
The authors acknowledge that crowdfunding can assist patients who may be unable to afford medical care, including those who are under- or uninsured. But this study suggests crowdfunding can also promote treatments that can be harmful—either directly or indirectly if a patient forgoes or delays proven treatments—as well as a waste of money.
What you should do
If you contribute to a campaign on GoFundMe or a similar site, make sure your contributions are for therapies approved by the FDA. Be suspicious of treatments offered at only one clinic or by health care providers who promote their cures with patient testimonials. You can get reliable information from government health agencies like the FDA, major medical centers and university hospitals, professional associations, and major nonprofit organizations. You can also check the website Quackwatch, which tracks health-related frauds and myths.
This article first appeared in the Febuary 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see 10 Ways to Spot Health Quackery.