How can pharma packaging help with compliance?
James Whittaker, head of 3D branding at our Amsterdam office, was asked to write an article for Dutch magazine FONK about how design can help with compliance in the pharmaceutical industry. Here’s the full article:
Pharma needs to appease the needs of consumers and can no longer hide behind the veil of supply chain efficiency.
Now we have all opened a blister pack at some point and either dropped the pills, punctured the blister foil in our bag or had the leaflet block the return of the blister to the box. These might seem like small aspects, mild frustrations at most, but when viewed through the eyes of both extra-need groups and medical compliance, these are much bigger issues.
Compliance or rather non-compliance is anything from forgetting to take the pills, ignoring the regimen, to taking the wrong dosage, but to put this into context: compliance was quoted as the biggest issue in pharma today, costing society some $30bn and 125,000 lives a year in the US alone. These are significant figures and I use the word ‘society’ as non-compliance results in higher insurance premiums, reduction in workforce output and perhaps most importantly, family members no longer with us. Compliance is important, yet poor packaging increases non-compliance.
However it is also extra-need groups like the elderly that suffer at the hands of poorly designed packaging, as anyone over 65 with arthritis will tell you. Taking childproof caps as an example, they are great for protecting the young, but this comes at the expense of the elderly as they try and close painfully arthritic fingers around a stiff, small diameter cap. This might not be as ‘costly’ as non-compliance, but as the elderly are the biggest growing segment of society there is a need to deliver better and more considered experiences to them (and in part, to aid compliance).
A shift in priority
Now when viewed from a distance, the role of pharma is simple; help improve the lives of the sick and poorly through the delivery of drug-based solutions. ‘Making lives easier’ could be the headline, so how does it make sense that many of the packaging experiences increase difficulty (and in some cases cause physical pain too)?
The answer lies in two areas, namely supply chain efficiency and regulation, and they co-conspire to lead us to where we are today: Finance and the drive for economies-of-scale dictate that we mostly get the cheapest possible pack, and regulatory ensures we are ‘protected’ against packaging and products that can maim or hurt us. Both seem like noble causes, but neither delivers a positive product/packaging experience and this is where both the challenge and the opportunity lie.
If we take a quick look towards FMCG though, we can see a different balance of priorities that take the consumer much more into account, and while ‘FMCG’ can cover many products, there are a selection of products like headache pills, insecticides and drain cleaners that have more regulations than other FMCG. A good place to look is therefore the growing crossover between pharma and FMCG to see where the future might lie, and excitingly there are good examples of consumer centric packaging already emerging.
Consumer centred design
Many brands inhabit this crossover point and Nurofen is a good starting example being both a linear pharma product but with the portfolio and architecture of an FMCG brand. Their innovations in packaging include the Vegas protective case, and in product format include gels, liquid capsules and regular pills. They all adhere to regulatory but take steps to answer some of the challenges besetting traditional pill based drug delivery like puncturing the blister.
This is also not dissimilar to ProPlus where the traditional card box has been replaced by a protective case. ProPlus sits somewhere between pharma and energy so is again a good reference for where RX ‘brands’ might head in the future.
These are both fairly simple containers, but MeadWestvaco’s ‘Shellpak’ takes this one step further and with a unique opening method the blister is truly child-proof but still provides blister protection along with a calendarised blister.
Coming back to pain relief for a moment but in a different format, the ClearRX bottle from Target in the US also answers challenges in pill delivery. Misreading of information and taking the wrong pills are big and potentially lethal issues for pharma, but ClearRX has colour coded rings to help you easily identify your pills as well as much larger label areas to aid in regimen communication, both economic ways to address the miscommunication. Now while this might be an RX product, since years it has also been an icon for good consumer centered design in pharma (and a leader in its class!).
In a different product area entirely, namely powders, even a simple solution like the moulded container, powder scoop and easy peel foil mean that Nutricia’s Nutrilon baby milk formula packaging can be opened, used and closed with one hand while balancing ‘junior’ in the other. Again a class-leading example.
Finally Strepsils also lies in this crossover space and their ‘Handy Tube’ has tackled the challenges with a blister head on by getting rid of it entirely! The tablets now come in a plastic tube doing away with the potential for blister failure and they even comment on the shift in experience in their communication: ‘The lozenges are tightly packed in an air-tight tube so there’s no fuss or fiddling with packaging’.
So we can see in the above that many pharma-brands are already listening more intently to the consumer’s needs and the result is invariably higher sales, stronger consumer connection and of course a better consumer experience. Good signs for the consumer, and the rest of pharma should sit up and take note, but interestingly this innovation also has a few market side effects which are worth noting:
Firstly the market is getting tougher for newcomers; the competition in branded-pharma is getting ever hotter which means new entrants have a bigger task to stand out and be credible.
Secondly the consumer’s demands are being well met in branded-pharma and it will not be long before they place the same demands on core pharma products meaning a bigger need of packaging innovation.
Finally, the products and packaging that were once overtly clinical are increasingly humanising and trading in emotional values familiar to consumers. They look more like brands and talk in a language that consumers can connect to and this enables better connection and ultimately might also aid compliance.
As pharma moves from RX to OTC and ultimately into the branded space, it has no choice really but to answer the consumer’s questions and class leaders like the above are showing the way. However this is no bad thing as after all, the end goal of pharma is not the supply-chain, but about you and me, consumers and humans.
James Whittaker, Head of 3D Branding, Design Bridge Amsterdam
In: News, Pharma branding, Product design, Structural design, Viewpoints · Tags: 3D, 3D Branding, Blister packs, Compliance, Medicine