Mar 21 2008

Taking Your Pills — When You’re Supposed To

packages.gifLast week I had the opportunity to speak before a group of pharmaceutical package designers. These are the folks who have to worry about making sure our pills, capsules, liquid medicines and others stay protected from heat, humidity, children and a host of regulations that require them to make packages that let the right people into them, while keeping the wrong people and elements out.

It was both informative for them — and informative for me, too.

I tackled a handful of issues, mostly wanting the attendees to understand their role in improving the quality of life for those of us who take medicine. When they make a tight, difficult to access blister or vial, then they are improving the quality of life for a child whose life is saved by not getting into something that might be poisonous.

When they create an easier to open package, they are improving the life of an elderly patient who doesn’t have the eyesight or the strength to open it.

Among the most important points is the designer’s role in compliance (also called adherence) — making sure that patients can comply with their medicine taking instructions. If a patient needs to take a pill three times a day, then she needs to be able to get into the packaging three times a day. If she takes one spoonful of liquid twice a day…. well… you get the picture.

And I addressed creative ideas for helping those things. For example — why don’t we make drug safes to keep in a linen closet to keep kids (and yes, teenagers looking for a high) out of the family drug supply? We lock up our guns, right? Why not lock up drugs that are potentially poisonous?

Or why don’t we develop gizmos that time the doses, with a beeper that goes off when it’s time to take the next pill?

Along comes an article in USA Today, describing just that kind of packaging — even connected to the internet to remind patients when it’s time to take their medicine, exactly what they should take, etc. A great idea whose time has come.

The number one complaint doctors make about patients is that we patients don’t comply with our treatment. Creative packaging is one way to boost those compliance rates and to make sure we have fewer excuses or barriers to get in our way.

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