Pharma packaging – can you join the 21st Century please?
I was recently in a department store and was struck by the amount of effort consumer goods companies put into packaging. The product packaging can make or break a purchase decision so it is clearly an area that warrants attention for FMCG companies – but what about pharma companies? The first response would probably be that this is not really a relevant area of concern for a company that sells prescription products.
I, however, would disagree. This may not have been an issue in the last century but I think this is now no longer the case. There are a number of reasons for this but perhaps the main is patient adherence. This is a topic that has been a headache for the industry for some time – one that has still not been resolved. When digital technology came to the forefront it was initially greeted as the saviour – the ideal solution for patient adherence. Subsequently it was denounced as a disapointment – technology did not solve the patient adherence problem. This was in part because some of the early programmes were too simplistic and did not factor in the complexity involved in patient adherence. Another issue is that technology can only solve part of the problem. The rest of the problem needs to be addressed in other, more tangible, offline ways.
This is potentially where a greater focus on packaging, and making packaging more consumer friendly, could play a role. If we take for example pills that a chronically ill patient has to take daily. There are numerous digital tools now to remind patients to take their pills, but what about just simply labeling the day of the week on the package? Contraceptive pills do this so why not for other long term medication? Whilst it may not provide the nudge to take the medication it acts as a reminder, as well as for of documentation, that the pill has been taken for that day. I for one would be more adherent – I often cannot remember if I have taken my pill for the day, and err on the side of caution by not taking another one (meaning I may in actual fact have missed my pill for the day). I have taken to writting the days on the packaging so that I can check if I forget – but it would be so useful if it was printed on the package. This would be such a simple but consumer friendly and helpful thing to do – and yet it is not common practice (I have not actually seen it on any pills other than contraception – have you?)
Another area to look at is the patient insert. This is a bulky piece of paper that comes in the box with the medication. Whilst the text has improved over the years to be more consumer friendly, the insert itself is an issue. For products that come in bottles, such as acne lotions, the information is not always printed on the bottle, even if there is space. I suspect many patients are like me – they take the pills and the bottle out of the box and probably throw the box, insert included, away. Whilst for pills it may not be possible to print the instructions on the packaging there is plenty of room on bottles. This way a patient would be able to check and get accurate information around how to use the product once the insert has been thrown away and thereby be more compliant.
One major area where packaging is a huge concern though is for patients with disabilities or movement restrictions, such as arthritis patients. To be developing packaging that your target market – i.e. the patients – cannot even open seems to be to be a huge issue! There needs to be more innovation to address the needs of patients who struggle to open packages or bottles. Packaging should be developed with the end user in mind – not just to comply with regulation or meet storage or distribution needs. If a patient cannot access their medication then what use is it?!
A final issue I have is around the visual design of packaging itself. Firstly very few companies give much retail space to the brand name – which differs from FMCG who place far more value in corporate branding than pharma does. Being familiar and trusting a corporate can have a positive impact on adherence for some patients and again this could be something that companies could dedicate a little more attention to. The final issue comes again with bottles. I have in my cupboard a mix of FMCG products that look good and prescrription bottles that look dreadful. The FMCG ones I am happy to have out on display whilst the pharma ones go in the cupboard. It is a no brainer which ones I use more simply because they are visible. Whilst I am not suggesting pharma invests in beautifying their packaging to the extend of FMCG packaging they could perhaps just modernise their packagaing a bit and make them less ugly? I warrant this point is very minor but it does bother me as a female patient!
Will any of the above happen? I doubt it. This is a very old fashioned industry and packaging is at the bottom in terms of prioritites but it would be great if someone listened and started to make packaging more customer friendly. Until then I will continue to hide my ugly bottles and write the days on my pill packaging.