Thursday, February 26, 2009

Online Personal Health Records and Pharma Search Engine Marketing

At yesterday's 3rd Pharmaceutical Search Engine Marketing Strategies Conference hosted by ExL Pharma, I was able to ask a question about the convergence of online personal health records ("PHR"; eg, MSN's Health Vault) and search engines may help pharmaceutical marketers greatly increase their return on investment in search engine marketing (SEM).

I asked the question because of a presentation that Grad Conn, Senior Director, Microsoft Health Solution Group, made at the recent ePharma Summit. In that presentation, Conn described MSN's Health Vault as a Personal Health Information Service (PHIS) that could be an important customer relationship management system that also is a "cross-selling platform for partner products." The illustration above shows Conn's concept of the how Health Vault will be the centerpiece of an "open ecosystem" of personal health information.

How can pharmaceutical companies benefit from online PHRs? Suppose, for example, that a pharmaceutical company wishes to recruit patients for a multi-center clinical trial. The company could buy search terms that relate to the medical condition being tested and its ads would be served only to those people searching on those words. As I mentioned yesterday, you could use Geo targeting to focus on a subgroup or groups of people who live near research centers. However, the ads would also be served up to physicians and many other people who do not qualify for inclusion in the clinical trial.

What if the search engine used aggregate Health Vault data to serve the ads ONLY to those people whose medical data strongly suggest that they are qualified for inclusion in the trial? That would be much more efficient and not only lead to better conversion rates but also to better qualified applicants.

Health Vault's privacy policy states that the information you deposit in the "vault" may be used to display "content and advertising that are customized to your interests and preferences." I think it's obvious how the same technology could be used for a branded drug SEM strategy. Imagine how much more effective your ads would be if they reached only those people whose medical information indicated a need for your product? [I'm talking about ethical pharma marketing here, not the kind that wants to convince people that they have a medical condition requiring the drug that's being advertised.]

This is a new twist on behavioral targeting, which I have discussed before on this blog (see "Behavioral Targeting: RJ vs JP").

Of course, there's a few hurdles to overcome before PHP's can be used this way. The number 1 hurdle is scale. MSN and Google are going to need to convince many millions of us to upload our medical records to their "vaults." Interestingly, president Obama's revival of government support for electronic medical records may help push this along.

The second hurdle is privacy and HIPAA, which places limits on how "covered entities" can share "protected health information" with 3rd parties for marketing purposes. If these vaults contain ONLY your personal medical information that YOU supply, then HIPAA does not come into play -- the law does not limit what consumers and patients can reveal about themselves to 3rd parties. Of course, you may not feel comfortable sharing your personal health information with just any one. In fact, many consumers do just that on social networks all the time! Besides, what I am talking about does not involve sharing this information with marketers. Your data is merely part of an aggregated subset that defines a segment to target for relevant ads. And who would not want relevant ads?

The trick is getting permission to use the data for targeting purposes. The Federal Trade Commission urges companies to obtain affirmative express consent before collecting such data for behavioral advertising, but does not REQUIRE it.

So, it could happen.

If you want to know how the experts at the SEM conference answered my question, you'll have to wait for the March issue of Pharma Marketing News in which I will cover this topic in much more detail. Subscribe now to get it delivered to you free!

SurveyMeanwhile, you are welcome to respond to my survey on this topic (see "Use of Personal Health Record Data for Patient Recruitment and Marketing Purposes") or post your comments here if you'd like your opinion included in my review. As usual your comments are confidential (anonymous) unless you specifically provide your contact information at the end of the survey and allow us to attribute comments to you personally.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I enjoyed reading it in a descriptive way. I also agree that, The trick is getting permission to use the data for targeting purposes. Very well said. Anyway, thanks for sharing this post.



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