Pharma knows you better than you think

imYLDb8xkhyoPOST SUMMARY: Drugmakers and Internet companies are quietly joining forces to link U.S. pharmacy records with online accounts to target ads to people based on their health conditions and the prescription drugs they buy but what do patients have to say?

According to Bloomberg: A little-known process, third-party companies assign patients unique numerical codes based on their prescription-drug records, a practice website also relies on to track their registered users. The two sets of data can be linked without names ever changing hands, allowing pharmaceutical companies to identify groups that use a specific medicine and send them tailored Web ads.

The practice has become an essential part of the $1 trillion pharmaceutical industry’s digital marketing efforts. The industry says the technique complies with federal medical privacy laws because patients’ names are concealed. Still, critics see it as a breach of confidentiality.

First, it’s important to remember that the drug companies never see the data and don’t know who you are.  The ads are served to users based on their history.  This is the same thing that CPG companies have been doing for years and there is a lot more technology that allows ads, for example, to follow people around as they surf the Web.  However, with Rx drugs, it’s different isn’t it?  That depends on patients.  At a minimum they should have the option, when they pick up an Rx of not having their data share with others.

“It involves tracking patients over time anonymously,” said Jody Fisher, director of U.S. product management for Danbury, Connecticut-based IMS, which has dossiers on more than 500 million patients worldwide. “It helps all stakeholders identify patterns of behavior that make delivery of health care more efficient.”

Not all drugmakers endorse the practice. GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) has stopped using them after the London-based company became concerned that the practice may violate consumer privacy and that websites aren’t informing users, said spokeswoman Sarah Alspach. Websites must “uphold appropriate privacy standards” and be transparent about how data is used, she said.