“Behavioral targeting” is the marketer’s term for techniques to increase the effectiveness of online publishing and advertising with deep user data. Facebook has dominated the news recently because of behavioral targeting driven by its data management policies. Yet for many users, Amazon’s Alexa eavesdrops on us 24/7 and she’s perceived as “part of the family.”  Both Facebook and Alexa use similar techniques to learn about our preferences, yet it feels different depending on how the data is being used. So the issue of behavioral targeting is not defined by the practice itself, but the uses to which it is put.
Most of us notice that internet ads appear as though they’re following us. Perhaps there’s an ad for a clothing store where you were recently shopping. Or there’s an ad for a new degree program that is strikingly similar to an institution you were just looking into. Quite often these ads are appealing – those are the times when such behavioral targeting (and re-targeting) are doing its job well.
In specialty pharma, behavioral targeting has the potential to significantly help patients via better patient services, as well as create value for hubs and manufacturers. The key is active use of smartphones (which is more and more common among the general public) and/or online activities, and access to user’s data habits in any of these media.
Understanding the mechanics of targeting
To understand how behavioral targeting can augment specialty patient services, let’s look at the bread and butter of behavioral targeting: implicit data. Users leave a crumbtrail of passive data that advertisers leverage to catalog users’ interests. For example, the articles users recently read shed light on current interests; connections reveal people we relate to; and fans can be identified by watching a particular sport or playing a video game.
Data about how a user consumes content is also highly informative: at what time of day someone reads about a particular subject, where they get groceries, which device they use – mobile or desktop. Of course, geographic data based on smartphone location throughout the day can also be collected, since people take their phones everywhere. Using these insights, computer algorithms analyze how to segment people and optimize advertising, to continuously improve content delivery to each particular user.
Using behavioral targeting responsibly
So how can this data help patients and their families navigate life after a diagnosis? The patient journey metaphor meshes well with behavioral targeting, as throughout any journey there are ups and downs, smooth and easy moments as well as various questions. This implicit data can be used to understand a person’s needs at a particular juncture in the journey in an effort to smooth the way. This is relevant for all conditions, both in specialty pharma sectors and mass market.
We can gather data points to figure out important health indicators such as when someone goes to work or comes home, when and where a treatment takes place, is someone sleeping enough or not getting exercise. This can be done by platforms like Neura , an AI-driven user awareness platform that utilizes smartphone signals along with WiFi and Bluetooth signals to get to know each user. This information feeds into platforms like Helparound (a technology partner of Neura) to gain insights used to achieve two goals: (1) reduce the burden on patients and their caregivers directly, and (2) help hubs better time their outreach to patients. Systems can also send timely reminders to schedule doctor appointments or ask if a ride to a treatment is needed, calculating potential traffic on the way and suggesting the best time to leave; or to notify that a nearby pharmacy now accepts the user’s insurance.
Changes in behavior may signal therapy disruptions, which can have a negative impact on patient outcomes. By understanding and predicting what is happening in the patient’s physical world, behavioral targeting can help detect that a patient is travelling and unavailable to pick up their prescription refill – allowing a specialty pharmacy to customize patient engagement. Any change in routine can be identified, allowing the power of behavioral targeting to work its magic. Additionally, those patients who want the benefit of reaching out to others experiencing a similar situation can take advantage of a platform like Helparound to connect with others. 
Specialty pharma applications
In summary, behavioral targeting can both optimize a patient’s experience and enrich hub’s understanding of its patients.
In our new reality where data is collected all day, everyday, we see the value of behavioral targeting as well as the complexity of data management. Fortunately, in the healthcare sector, HIPAA exists to guard our privacy. So although recent headlines may cause concern about data gathering, we believe these technologies can be successfully used to help patients, their caregivers and the hubs that serve them. By offering content for patients and caregivers, bringing up useful services at the right moment, and acting just when a patient might need a bit of extra TLC, the entire specialty health ecosystem can transform the healthcare experience.
About the author
Shlomi Aflalo is the co-founder & CTO of Helparound (www.helparound.co), a patented mobile patient intelligence platform for specialty therapies. He has previous experience as VP R&D at eXelate (acquired by Nielsen), where he built a real time behavioral targeting system which processes billion of data point and multiple terabytes of data daily and provides real-time data to companies like Google & Yahoo.