Design of Packaging for Patient Safety

Design of Packaging for Patient Safety

My recent visit to the Pharma Packaging and Labelling Forum 2012 in Vienna got me thinking about how packaging can add value both to the patient and also to the bottom line.

As an industry dedicated to the wellness of its customers, the issues of regime adherence are well understood.  The health implications to the patient are obvious, as are the sales impacts resulting from a lack of repeat prescriptions.  Doctors are only likely to support products that they see are working and helping the health of their patients.  There has been much research in this area – it is a very complex dynamic of many issues which drive adherence, and packaging is just one part.

Whilst some adherence solutions are complex, there are also a number of straightforward packaging designs that can have a positive impact, but take-up is slow.  Why do we have this inertia for something that is surely good for everyone?

Usability also presents a packaging value challenge.  80% of drugs are taken by people over 60 years of age.  Ageing brings with it many challenges, but are the needs of an ageing population really taken into account in the structural and graphic design of packaging beyond that mandated by legislation?  Again there are great examples of good practice in the market place, but why are these not universally adopted?

New channels are opening and new tools emerging (for example therapy information web-sites) to help people manage their medical conditions more successfully.  As packaging is the primary interface between a patient and the product, how will the design and content need to evolve to provide interface or links to these other channels?

There are also issues about how packaging is designed to help the prescribing of products in pharmacies and hospitals.  Much work has been undertaken by the UK’s National Patient Safety Authority on how packaging artwork design can be enhanced to improve the differentiation, identification and usability of products.  Simple things like the use of colour and the positioning of information can have dramatic effect on helping healthcare professionals ensure that the right product has been selected and that it is used in the right way.  To help promote this thinking the UK National Health Service needs to demonstrate ‘Purchasing for Safety’ where the graphical design of packaging is considered in the purchasing decision.

Furthermore, there is increasing use of coding on packaging to reduce errors in picking or administering the wrong product, with an increasing move to unit dose marking, particularly for hospitals and other care establishments.  This requires processes and systems to manage the provision and application of coding data to packaging.

All of the above makes me wonder how well equipped are the designers who undertake the structural and graphical design of pharmaceutical products.  The role of packaging is evolving to not just protect the product, but also improve the patients’ interaction with the product and support the commercial ambition for the product.  As packaging professionals, how do we need to evolve to support that challenge?

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