Investigating the relationship between medical crowdfunding and personal bankruptcy in the United States: Evidence of a digital divide

Gordon Burtch, Jason Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


As of 2007, an estimated 62% of individual bankruptcy filings in the United States were a direct result of costs borne from medical treatment following illness or injury, up from 46% in 2001. This pressing issue is only getting worse and is in need of relief. In this work, we consider the potential of a relatively recent, and rapidly growing, phenomenon to mitigate the problem: online crowdfunding for medical expenses, wherein patients reach out to their social network for monetary support via online platforms that facilitate the process. On the surface, medical crowdfunding holds the potential to address insurance gaps and to help those burdened by medical debt. However, recent questions have arisen in the healthcare literature around fairness and equity in the distribution of funds. Consistent with the notion of digital divide, many have raised concerns that the individuals most likely to benefit from these services are not the individuals who are most in need. Accordingly, we first seek to establish the effect of this novel phenomenon on a key indicator of financial distress: rates of personal bankruptcy. We then explore heterogeneity in patterns of funding solicitation and acquisition, to assess the presence inequalities across patient populations. We leverage proprietary data from a large medical crowdfunding platform based in the United States, which we combine with county records of personal bankruptcy filings. We report evidence that greater success amongst medical crowdfunding campaigns does translate into a reduction in personal bankruptcy filings. Subsequently, we report analyses which revealed evidence consistent with the presence of a digital divide. Specifically, we report evidence that disadvantaged groups are systematically more likely to launch medical crowdfunding campaigns, yet conditional on campaign launch, garner systematically less in funding. We discuss the implications for the literature on the digital divide, as well as implications for practice and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-262
Number of pages26
JournalMIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Gordon Burtch is an associate professor and McKnight Presidential Fellow in the Information and Decision Sciences Department at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. Gordon’s work has been published in all the leading journals in the field of Information Systems, including Management Science, Information Systems Research, MIS Quarterly, Journal of the AIS, and Journal of MIS. He was a recipient of the INFORMS ISS and ISR Best Paper Award in 2014, the ISR Best Reviewer Award in 2016, as well as both the INFORMS ISS Sandra A. Slaughter and AIS Early Career Awards in 2017. He has repeatedly served as conference cochair for the Workshop on Information Systems and Economics, as well as track chair and associate editor for the International Conference on Information Systems. He presently serves as an associate editor for Information Systems Research. His work has been supported by more than $175,000 in grants from the 3M Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, and Adobe. His research and opinions have been cited by numerous prominent outlets in the popular press, including The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Los Angeles Times, PC Magazine, VICE, and Wired. He holds a Ph.D. from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, as well as an MBA and B.Eng. from McMaster University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Crowdfunding
  • Digital divide
  • Medical bankruptcy
  • Online platform


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