In the U.S., there are 1.6 million Americans living with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These debilitating chronic illnesses can lead to painful abdominal cramps and long-lasting digestive tract issues. Phyllis Johnson‘s son, Dane, was 23 years old when he was diagnosed and quickly found out that the conventional treatments did not relieve his symptoms.
The average yearly medical expenses for these types of diseases can be upwards of $8,000, with medications taking up nearly 30 percent of the total costs. Unfortunately, the Johnson’s insurance plan, like many, didn’t cover alternative health methods — even nutritionists.
Integrated healthcare, which can include physical therapists, nutritionists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, counselors, and other treatment options, is largely a cash-based business.
“This was a huge eye opener for me,” says Johnson. Traditional doctors put Dane on an aggressive medication regimen and were exploring options like removing his colon. Johnson wanted to try another route, and now Dane is in full remission by pursuing diet and lifestyle changes, thanks to integrated medicine.
“After 20 years in IT and running companies, I took it upon myself to build a neutral financial exchange that brings together those who are very passionate about health and wellness. I co-founded eFundYourHealth to pull together this integrated healthcare ecosystem to be able to help others who just don’t have the money to access it,” says Johnson.
Before the patient can raise any money, the platform uses a practitioner referral to legitimize the user and their illness. Then, eFundYourHealth goes beyond the traditional crowdfunding platform, by also providing a matching grant for patients raising funds.
Currently, a patient receives the $250 matching grant once they raise that amount from at least five donors.
“The reason why we make the patient match our grant is that now it forces the community to help change American health care, right? For every $1 in grant money we give these patients, we are finding that they’re raising four times the amount of money,” says Johnson.
Three weeks after the campaign opens, the user receives a debit card that gives them immediate access to their funds while allowing them to keep the campaign open. The debit cards come with restrictions — the funds can only be used for alternative medical expenses, uninsurable costs, and specific purchase categories to prevent fraud.
The platform sees crowdfunding campaigns for ailments including Crohn’s disease, Lupus, liver disease, fibromyalgia, and other autoimmune illnesses. They saw their first campaign in May 2018 and have been growing ever since, with more than 4,000 users on the platform now.
eFundYourHealth began in 2013 solely as a non-profit to help people pay for Crohn’s disease treatments. To help with fundraising, Johnson and her co-founder son decided to add a for-profit operations arm to serve investors that were interested in donating to those seeking funds through the platform.
“I quickly saw the need for a tech component, a platform, to help reverse Crohn’s and other chronic illnesses,” says Johnson.
The for-profit arm helps fund the startup’s minimal overhead (8 percent) and product development, as well as the grants provided to patients.
“The big difference and the reason why we get so much excitement is that our non-profit enable us to give grants to patients. Not only do your friends and family donate to you, but you receive a grant from our donors,” says Johnson.
They use the technology platform to funnel the money from investors (foundations, philanthropists, and others) into those grants. They make sure to closely track the grant money via the debit card to ensure their donors’ contribution is going where it’s really needed.
While those with chronic illnesses get the spotlight on the platform, integrated medicine practitioners are certainly also beneficiaries. They tend to recommend those patients unable to pay for their services in order to help them raise the needed cash. Sometimes, they even donate to their campaigns, says Johnson.
The Charleston-based startup team is looking to raise a $250,000 funding round to ramp up marketing and further expansion nationwide.
“We can’t solve American healthcare. What we’re doing is we’re fulfilling demand. By fulfilling demand, we have 87 million Americans who are chronically ill and it’s dramatically growing.”