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Has the consumer been ignored in the design of packaging for pharmaceuticals?


Well-designed packaging improves patient and work safety

Poorly designed pharmaceutical packaging can be fatal to the patient. For the elderly, people weakened by an illness, or those who take several medicines, it is important that the packaging is designed in a way that makes it easy to open, to administer the drug and to read the user instructions.

In a project coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, ‘Easy-to-use pharmaceutical packaging’ (HELP), was examined the usability of package opening mechanisms, and developed solutions to support their improvement in opening and readability of user instructions for packaging design.

Packaging design must be based on the product users and their needs. In a worst case scenario, the patient or nurse selects the wrong drug, administers the drug incorrectly, or cannot open the packaging.

”If the packaging can't be opened and essential drugs aren't taken, the consequences may be fatal. Creating functional packaging for pharmaceuticals is the sum of many parts: one failed component, such as a seal being too strong, can ruin the whole,” says Raija-Liisa Heiniö, project manager of the HELP project and Senior Scientist at VTT.

Easier opening of pharmaceutical packaging can be achieved through a simple opening mechanism, and being able to get a good grip and to open with minimal force. These features are especially important for the elderly and for people with rheumatism. According to the study, the packaging solutions easiest to use were a plastic container with lid and a blister pack among the studied packages.

Good graphical design improves safety

The title and strength of a drug and its intended use is important information for the user; these details must be displayed clearly. However, the printed text on packaging is often too small for the user to read. Information critical to the user may be lost amid lesser detail. 

Graphical design is paramount in the readability of packaging. Special attention must be paid to font type and size, and to the contrast between text and background. For example, the 'Easy to read' test developed by VTT helps to identify problem areas in packaging design and to develop clear and simple pharmaceutical packaging and product data sheets that also enhance patient safety.

EU legislation must take better note of user needs

The organisations participating in the Easy-to-use pharmaceutical packaging project are hoping that the drafting of EU legislation can be developed to take better account of user needs in regulations concerning markings on packaging. New methods combined with user-oriented packaging design are a major step towards user-friendlier and safer pharmaceutical packaging.

The HELP project (the acronym is based on the project's Finnish title), coordinated by VTT and funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes, involved developing testing methods to facilitate packaging design, and comparing different types of pharmaceutical packaging. The project was implemented jointly by VTT, the Gerontology Research Centre of the University of Jyväskylä, and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The students of the Institute of Design and Fine Arts at Lahti University of Applied Sciences generated novel, easy-to-open design solutions for pharmaceutical packaging. Other participants in the project included two pharmaceutical companies, Santen Oy and Abbvie Oy, and the graphical industry player Jaakkoo-Taara Oy. The specialist consultants for the project included Pharma Industry Finland, the Finnish Rheumatism Association, and the Association of Packaging Technology and Research.