When it comes to packaging in the pharmaceutical sector, it’s not all about the aesthetics; the design needs to do a bit more than grabbing the consumer’s eye. Typically, packs need to assist the patient to take the correct dosage of medicine and, if one set of statistics are anything to go by, packaging and labelling is of utmost importance to the wellbeing of patients.
The National Patient Safety Authority (NPSA) estimates that there are 900,000 recorded adverse events in the NHS every year. Approximately a third of these are medication and dispensing errors caused by confusion over packaging and labelling instructions. The NPSA strongly advises that packaging design should consider the needs and capabilities of the broadest possible range of patients, particularly older and partially sighted users. The needs of pharmacists and how they identify, classify and differentiate between medicine packages is also stressed.
Rob McLean of Chester Medical Solutions explains: “Well designed pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging has the potential to reduce the [adverse events] figure and play a vital role in improving patient safety and compliance.” It means that designers and manufacturers of pharmaceutical packaging have plenty to contend with. While pharmaceutical packaging only constitutes around 3% of packaged products globally, it’s a market where smart structure and clear communication is essential.
Chesapeake marketing and services manager Bob Houghton explains: “The role of packaging cannot be overplayed. It is the first point of communication with the patient and it is imperative that it clearly communicates to the patient in a way that is easily understood – what the item is, what its used for, how to use it and so on. A well designed pack – this includes both construction design and graphics – keeps the contents safe and secure, offers reliable access to the contents for the patient, conveys information clearly and in a format that is easily understood.”
Innovation is the cornerstone of the pharmaceutical industry and packaging has to reflect that. The sector has risen to the challenges with further advances in reducing dispensing errors, anti-counterfeiting, Braille messaging, sustainability and guiding patients to correct dosage (for instance, with stick packs) among others emerging over the last year. The design patient safety research draws the conclusion that getting the correct message across is of paramount importance. Some are leaning towards illustrations rather than just text but whatever option or combination is used, clarity is key.
The importance of label clarity and distinction between medications is further emphasised by one senior clinic manager who says: “In healthcare the cost of errors are immense with patient litigation and investigations. What has been under discussion is that many pharmaceutical companies often have their very different dangerous drugs labelled and bottled quite similarly, contributing to errors.”
In terms of primary packaging, market projections earlier this year suggested pre-filled syringes will generate the highest growth rate per year from now until 2016, closely followed by blister packs. The former provides many benefits including administering drug convenience and dosage accuracy. Single-dose dispensing is one of the reasons why skinny stick packs are also proving to be increasingly appealing along with ease of opening.
Not only can packaging ensure that the correct dosage is administered but also instruct when it should be taken. Recent studies and data have shown that patient adherence could be dramatically increased by compliance-prompting packaging. This can range from the simple printing of a calendar on a pack or with technology such as data-storing electronic devices which alert the consumer when it’s time to take medication.
However, some feel that accessibility is currently a stumbling block. At RxAdherence 2012 in March, organised by the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council (HCPC), Rob Blazek, senior director, business development and network strategies at Rx EDGE warned: “Reminder devices are nice and they work, but they are hard to deliver to the masses. We need an integrated approach to solve the issue.”
A good example of the effectiveness of compliance-prompting is birth control packaging. A calendared blister that reminds the patient to take her daily dose is a considerable contributing factor as to why the pills have a 92% compliance rate, according to National Council on Patient Information and Education in the US. “Calendared blisters are a good way for patients to keep track of their treatment history and their ability to improve compliance rates is largely acknowledged through many industrially recognised white papers,” says Mark Symonds, managing director at Burgopak Healthcare & Technology. “Compact packaging designs also encourage better patient compliance through being more consumer and lifestyle friendly, meaning that they can easily fit into customers’ pockets or bags.”
He adds: “Solutions that integrate the outer carton, blister medication and patient information in one complete unit can improve the overall treatment experience for the patient. Keeping the medication and the patient information leaflet together allows vital product information to be readily available every time the patient accesses their medication.”
Once the issue of delivery is successfully tackled, a more widespread use of compliance-prompting would seem to be a natural progression, particularly using the aforementioned data-storing devices. There are also several other technological developments in progress that could shape the future of pharma packaging.
“Future interactive packaging is likely to come from developments in printed electronics,” says Chesapeake’s Houghton. “Many brand owners are exploring this technology but market adoption has, so far, been limited. In the healthcare sector adoption of new technology needs to be tempered by the ease of application, patient understanding and the need to always provide a failsafe and, of course, cost.
“Developments will come, though. A printed carton containing conductive tracks linked to a product blister and integral electronics module is already here. This will allow a pack to play a pre-recorded message that can highlight a product’s details, dosage requirements or record the exact time when the blister pack was opened.”
Andrew Revel from the packaging and innovation consultancy Faraday also believes pharma packaging audibility is the way forward: “Packaging will talk to us, provide us with information on its storage and tell us when it is the best time to use the product,” he says. “The drivers for developing unique consumer experiences are very strong and, in most cases, the technology to deliver these changes is already here or just around the corner.” There has been no shortage of pharma packaging innovations over the last year. EasyFairs, organisers of Packaging Innovations London, polled 200 branding and marketing professionals with 16% saying that of all the sectors, pharmaceutical/medical was the most innovative for its packaging.
With technology constantly evolving, pharmaceutical is not a market that will rest on its laurels and we can expect to see many more in the not too distant future. Packaging has a big role to play in reducing those adverse events.