Doctors concerned about people crowdfunding for medical care

The Dutch professional associations of oncologists and neurologists are concerned about the increasing popularity of medical crowdfunding. They worry that patients are being fooled by the doubtful claims made by alternative healers from abroad, which patients often include in their crowdfunding texts, the Volkskrant reports based on its own research. 

According to the newspaper, the number of new crowdfunding campaigns for medical care in the Netherlands increased more than sixfold since 2015. Patients who have exhausted all options of care, or are dissatisfied with the care they receive, easily find a foreign clinic that claims to be able to cure them. This often involves patients suffering from cancer, MS or Lyme disease, the Volkskrant writes. These foreign clinics are not covered by Dutch health insurance, and often charge a great deal for their treatments, so patients find other ways to pay for it.

The alternative treatments foreign clinics offer are sometimes scientifically based, but not yet available in the Netherlands. But more often these are clinics that offer their own success figures, making it unclear whether the treatment is actually effective and what risks are involved. Research by medical journal Jama shows that crowdfunding campaigns often "exaggerate" the effectiveness of treatments, and "underexpose" the risks, if they are mentioned at all. An analysis by Lancet found that only 1 percent of the campaigns investigated mentioned risks at all.

Haiko Bloemendal, chairman of the Dutch association for medical oncology NVMO, called crowdfunding a "gift" for alternative healers. "A jar of peanut butter must state exactly how much sugar it contains and whether it contains gluten", Bloemendal said to the newspaper. "There is no inspection for collection campaigns. I think that patients should be at least as well protected as customers of a supermarket." Bloemendal said he understands the difficult situation of patients who have exhausted all their treatment options and are looking for a final straw to clutch at, but he fears tat the popularity of foreign "miracle treatments" will lead to a increase in "patients who reject regular, effective treatments". 

The Dutch association for neurology NVN calls for disclaimers to be added to all crowdfunding campaigns for medical care. These disclaimers must include the opinions of Dutch doctors on the effectiveness of treatments, to give a more honest picture to donors and encourage patients to remain critical themselves.

In March this year, the American crowdfunding platform GoFundMe already banned campaigns for a German cancer clinic and anti-vaccination. This week Dutch company GetFunded also started banning anti-vaxxers. GetFunded told the Volkskrant that it is "open to more disclaimers with certain treatments". Robert-Jan Mastenbroek, founder of crowdfunding platform Dream or Donate, told the newspaper that it is not his responsibility to provide medical information. "I started this platform so people can make their dreams come true", he said. "Crowd funders choose a treatment themselves and must be honest about it to their donors It is not up to me to set all kinds of conditions there."

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