Drugmakers Increasingly Use Data Mining for Targeted Ads

December 13, 2014 in News

Drugmakers are increasingly partnering with Internet companies to use a new data-mining method that enables them to tailor Web advertisements to individuals based on their prescription drug data, Bloomberg reports.

Details of ‘Matchback’ Process

The process, called “matchback,” allows companies to target consumers by linking de-identified pharmaceutical data with individuals’ de-identified online account information.

Specifically, data brokers that have purchased millions of prescription drug records from drug benefit managers, such as CVS Health or Express Scripts Holding, use algorithms to replace patient names with a permanent numerical code. The brokers then partner with website companies to match their de-identified user information with the prescription drug data.

Industry experts say the method allows data to be exchanged without exposing names, and only aggregate data are shared with the drugmakers. According to Bloomberg, the process is a key part of drugmakers’ online marketing strategies.

Practice Raises Privacy Concerns

While drugmakers claim that the technique complies with federal privacy laws because no patient names are revealed, some critics say the matchback practice is a confidentiality breach and could undermine HIPAA, according to Bloomberg.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the privacy group Center for Digital Democracy, said, “Marketers are treating our health data as if we were buying a pair of pants or a book.” He added, “That’s unconscionable. These are highly personal, sensitive decisions that people make.”

However, Jody Fisher — director of U.S. product management for IMS Health — said the method “involves tracking patients over time anonymously,” adding, “It helps all stakeholders identify patterns of behavior that make delivery of health care more efficient”(Robertson/Pettypiece, Bloomberg, 12/10).

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