Data is a valuable commodity in an age of data-driven marketing, but considerable care must be taken when collecting sensitive information in healthcare.

Businesses rely on third-party data about their audiences that is usually collected through cookies. While such third-party cookies and pixel-tracking technologies are useful for targeted advertising, a lack of transparency has made the public uneasy about their use – especially for deeply sensitive areas such as medical records. Failure to obtain consent can result in considerable fines for those collecting data.

A US federal court recently ruled that Facebook users can sue the Meta Platform for allegedly recording internet visits to hospital websites and monetising that information1. Meta Pixel also came under scrutiny in the UK when an investigation by The Observer revealed that NHS trusts were sharing patients’ data with Facebook without their consent by deploying Meta Pixels on their highly sensitive websites2.

“High-profile cases, like the lawsuit against Meta, could draw public attention to the risks of pixel tracking and prompt demand for legal safeguards,” says Igor Lopez, Head of Sales at Cassie, a leading consent and preference management platform.

“Gathering and storing large volumes of data increases the risk of data breaches and potential stigmatisation and discrimination against individuals based on their medical history or conditions,” adds Lopez.

As a result of these incidents and growing public concern about personal privacy, tech giants are taking action to restrict these data-tracking programmes. While the deadline to end third-party cookie collection from these browsers keeps getting delayed, healthcare and life science sectors must be prepared.

Utilising first-party cookies

With third-party cookies being phased out, along with increased privacy regulations and stronger competition, the future of the digital world may appear daunting for healthcare advertisers. Third-party cookies are critical in the healthcare industry for improving patient experiences and maintaining an efficient treatment process. They assist healthcare providers in gaining insight into a patient’s digital journey, allowing them to identify areas of concern, improve user experience, and make informed choices.

“Without tracking cookies, healthcare companies will struggle to tailor content, recommendations, and reminders to individual patients. This can hinder patient engagement, as relevant information may not reach patients at the right time, potentially affecting treatment adherence and overall health outcomes,” says Igor.

With the end of third-party cookie collection nearing, companies must consider focusing on first-party data collected directly from their customers. This privacy-first data collection approach helps to foster trust among patients while also giving up-to-date, accurate, and reliable information to organisations.

Health and life science marketers may be better placed to handle a cookieless world given their regulatory experience with laws such as HIPAA, PHI, and GDPR.

To collect first-party information about the patients and learn more about their preferences and needs, Lopez suggests investing in and utilising systems such as patient portals, online forms, email subscriptions, interactive health assessments or quizzes, surveys and feedback.

Brands can also consider developing mobile apps with features such as appointment and prescription requests and widgets that allow patients to voluntarily share their preferences for communication, content, and services. This can also encourage patients to share their experiences and health journeys, providing further insights into their preferences and needs.

First-party data collected from these initiatives can then be efficiently and securely organised with the help of customer data platforms (CDPs) and consent management platforms (CMPs), alongside customer relationship management (CRM) software to glean actionable insights.

Building transparency with healthcare data

The rule for building brand affinity is simple: it all relates to transparency. People want greater transparency into how their data is used online and have the option to control their interactions with digital advertising. Consumers are more likely to give their information to companies that handle data storage responsibly and are open about using it to generate value for consumers through special offers and loyalty programmes.

In addition to first-party information, transitioning from behavioural advertising to using a contextual approach can also be beneficial in a cookieless digital space. Contextually targeted ads rely on advanced algorithms to focus ad placements based on the content that the consumers are interacting with at the time. The ad content is more likely to resonate with engaged viewers, and it has the added advantage of targeting niche groups in highly relevant settings.

For instance, a viewer engaging with an article about the symptoms of diabetes is more likely to respond to an advertisement on the page about glucose monitors.

Such an approach is mindful of compliance regulations since there is no collection of personal information involved. Companies can use contextual advertising to experiment with keywords and alternative ad formats, then analyse real-time stats and customise content for maximum performance. At the same time, if an advertisement is related to the item they are now viewing, a customer is less likely to feel targeted by it, which is a common complaint with behavioural advertisements.

Bridging expertise gaps

Forming strategic collaboration is also a crucial aspect of utilising first-party information. When it comes to data ownership, partnering with a reliable consent management platform such as Cassie can help healthcare and life science brands bridge any expertise gaps.

“Advanced cookie management platforms have begun to introduce features that can compliantly help healthcare organisations overcome the challenges of a cookieless future. Cassie is a powerful consent management platform with two modules specifically developed to help companies collect first-party data insights, preserve consent history, and protect attribution removed by privacy browser settings,” says Igor. 

“The Cassie Identity Service allows clients to compliantly retain the correct identity of returning visitors even if the browser enables privacy settings and removes third-party cookies. This helps businesses collect and attribute accurate data from returning visitors to optimise campaigns and improve the user experience, for instance, the cookie banner will not be shown on repeat visits.”

A non-intrusive way of collecting first-party data is provided through Cassie’s Progressive Profiling module. This enables marketers to collect first-party data, ask questions, and build anonymous preference profiles. Through client-specific business rules, it serves non-intrusive pop-ups such as questions, surveys, or polls during the digital journey to establish anonymous preference profiles stored against a unique identifier.

With deeper preference insights, marketing teams can use them to inform strategic decisions. When Personal Identifying Information (PII) is captured, the historic preference profiling data syncs to enable personalised content that improves user engagement.

Discover more about how to safeguard healthcare data while staying compliant with regulations by downloading the whitepaper below.