Reports reveal medical packs fail patient needs

Pharmaceutical packaging is failing both patients and the healthcare industry and designers need to improve their understanding of patient needs, claims a report out this week.

The Enterprise IG-sponsored report says pharmaceutical packaging is failing on a number of levels. A lack of clear information means both patients and pharmacists struggle to differentiate between products, and patients regularly fail to understand dose and usage instructions.

Nearly half of the 100 patients surveyed object to unbranded ‘just white’ packaging, while 86 per cent say they want clearer information and instructions on medical packaging. The majority of respondents don’t stop there: 55 per cent say illustrations are important.

Enterprise IG head of pharmaceutical and healthcare branding Beverly Law says the report, which focuses on ‘soft ethical and lifestyle’ drugs rather than acute therapy areas, highlights a need to improve both structural packaging and on-pack communication and branding.

‘Designers need to focus on patient needs as well as regulatory requirements. Our research shows that [structurally and aesthetically] well-designed packaging is important to patients,’ she says. ‘Designers must consider structural elements such as how the tablets are released and more aesthetic considerations – for instance, how it looks on a bedside table and [whether or not] it fits nicely in a handbag,’ Law explains.

Law believes clearer, ‘more emotive’ language is also important. Language should encourage ‘consumer belief in the therapy, as this is a key part of successful treatment’, she says.

According to Law, well designed packaging was also found to increase trust in remedies.

The Enterprise IG findings coincide with the release of a Design Council and Department of Health report last month, which calls on designers and the health community to work together to reduce medical errors and improve patients’ safety.

Entitled Design for Patient Safety, the report calls for a design revamp across a wide range of applications, from healthcare information – such as patients’ notes and medication instructions – to packaging and equipment.

The council’s report says: ‘Too many healthcare solutions have been designed based on a [lack] of knowledge of the system, or the needs of people who use them.

‘There is no feedback between users, purchasers, designers and manufacturers and opportunities to reduce risk through better design are being lost,’ it adds.

Professor Peter Buckle from the University of Surrey’s Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics is part of the team that conducted the research. He agrees packaging considerations are a key area.

‘For many people packaging [as it stands] is difficult to open and close and people can also confuse dose and [usage] instructions. The potential for error is enormous,’ says Buckle.

The two reports disagree on the importance of branding. According to Law, ‘Packaging design plays a key role in strengthening consumer relationships with medicinal brands.’

‘Pharmaceutical companies need to start thinking about branding for drugs that are ending their patent cycle and are approaching over-the-counter sales points,’ Law asserts.

But the Design Council report claims ‘too much emphasis is placed on branding rather than patient needs’.

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