How to redesign the packaging of pills so that it is accessible and sustainable?


When the blister pack was designed in the 1960s, it revolutionized the delivery of unit dose drugs by providing an inexpensive, lightweight, tamper-evident barrier that maintained product integrity. But it was also a great example of a packaging design that made it easier for users to comply. By assigning the days of the week to each pill on the blister packs, a simple container has become a handy cheat sheet for regular pill-takers – an essential mechanism for those on the birth control pill where a missed day could lead to pregnancy. unplanned. Additionally, the design deterred mass consumption of pills in a way that pill bottles did not, providing an additional barrier for safety.

But today, not much has changed. Some 12 million people over 65 in the UK and 40 million in the US take five tablets per day to manage ailments, and their risk of overdose or under-medication is very real. The current packaging design, in the hands of fragile people and within sight of it, is not only impractical, but potentially dangerous. And this danger does not only concern the elderly; it relates to the planet as a whole.

In the prime of life, we don’t hesitate to take a pill out of its blister pack. Piercing eyes and skillful fingers make the simple act almost effortless. But what seems like second nature to the intermittent aspirin taker becomes a tedious and frustrating task for the elderly and infirm struggling with tremors and arthritis. It is not democratically accessible.

Then there is the issue of sustainability. The blisters are made of a multilayer of different materials: one to form a rigid structure, and the other to provide a pierceable membrane, making it a nightmare to recycle. Its very design forces the consumer to separate the layers into mono-materials before they can be disposed of in their respective recycling bins. If 12 million people in the UK consume, on average, five pills a day and the standard pill pack contains around eight, that alone equates to around 2.7 billion pill packs thrown into landfills each day. year.

Pill bottles, on the other hand, present a different but equally frustrating set of problems. Tamper-evident, tamper-evident safety caps with a push-in and twist mechanism are as much of a deterrent to the elderly as they are to the children they are designed to protect. The security seals at the neck of the bottle that show the cork intact are tiny and can only be removed with considerable force. Then there’s the issue of distribution, with a design that works against the forces of gravity that practically invites content to spill out everywhere.

Elderly patients have been the prey of poor design for too long. What can we do about it?

Rethinking accessibility

The problem requires lateral thinking. Perhaps the solution is not in redesigning the packaging of the drugs itself, but in creating completely new ways for drugs to reach the patient.

There has been some innovation in this space. Pillbox, the Online pharmacy bought by Amazon in 2019 for $ 753 million, organizes medications in individual paper packages that are labeled with the date and time they are to be taken and sent to the patient. The dispenser box delivers the packs sequentially, making it clear if you’ve missed a day, while on the side of the box itself is an illustrated pill list that lets you verify you’re taking the correct medication. However, the fine print on the packages and on the box itself still leaves the same challenges for people with visual and / or cognitive impairments. Inaccessibility was not designed.

And while the solution simplifies the management of complex drug plans, there have been many issues surrounding compromising product integrity in the name of convenience. A quick glance at the reviews shows that some patients have received the wrong drugs or broken pills, highlighting how extremely vulnerable the supply chain is to human error.

We might be able to forgive the strange wrong or missing ingredient present in the meal boxes we subscribe to and can still cook a meal with little consequence (pretty much or take a slight deviation in taste). But the same mistake in dispensing our prescription drugs can have very serious consequences.

Hero is another innovative example of technology that is revolutionizing medication management. Her home pill organizers organize medications and encourage patients to take the right pills at the right time. But the system requires manual loading, which leads us to the same heavy interaction with pills and blisters.

A circular system for drug administration

These innovations are a step in the right direction, but to be truly inclusive, especially for the growing population of seniors, it is essential that these design flaws be corrected. The design solution could be a fully integrated system in which pre-organized units of drugs, prepared according to prescription, are packaged in containers that can be delivered to homes and loaded directly, like a cartridge into a printer, into a child resistant safe. drug dispenser designed in an inclusive way with users with physical, visual and cognitive impairments in mind.

The organizational and compliance characteristics of a Hero or PillPack could be balanced with a structurally sustainable system, preserving product integrity, accommodating transportation and supply chain issues, and limiting use. of plastic.

For example, a container molded from stamped medical grade steel made compatible with an automatic dose device could possibly store and dispense the right medication at the right time while including safety features that do not rely on physical force and the dexterity to function – rather, just adult sized hands. The structural design can be used for simplified transport, creating easily connectable packs, thus saving space. The containers themselves could be deconstructed with a specialized tool for cleaning, providing an additional barrier against tampering.

By holistically looking at the issue of accessibility and sustainability and redesigning its delivery and packaging infrastructure, the pharmaceutical industry will not only be able to better manage costs, but also improve its user experience and to reduce its considerable environmental footprint.

Technological innovation is not a panacea for a complex health and aging crisis. But empathetic, human-centered design can be powered by technology to alleviate user experience issues that degrade an older adult’s quality of life.

It’s amazing how much a seemingly harmless blister pack can make our daily life worse and even endanger it when we are most vulnerable. Interacting with it can feel like a small daily humiliation, an object that goads us and makes fun of our disability. But imagine a better alternative that has a positive transformative effect on our experience, even going so far as to restore quality and meaning to life when these two most important freedoms start to elude us in old age.

Can Drug Packaging Really Do It All?

If it can make our lives worse, if not threaten, then why can’t He improve them? We have the capacity and the resources to make this vision a reality and it all starts from this empathetic person-centered space. In the face of these impending social time bombs, this work must begin now.


Nick Dormon is Managing Director of the Branding and Innovation Design Agency Echo.


About Terry Gongora

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