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Doctoring Design: Why Medical Packaging Should Be Part Of the Remedy

by Oscar Daws on 06/07/2022 | 4 Minute Read

Anybody involved in the packaging design world, for whichever sector, will tell you that a pack is more than a protective wrapping. It has to communicate, enhance, delight, dispense, compel, and protect. 

But when it comes to the medical sector, there’s an opportunity for packaging to play a more critical role—to form part of the very product itself.

There are strict criteria. In pharmaceuticals and healthcare, there are safety considerations like tamper-proofing and sterilization—there are also strict guidelines governing how information gets presented. But the packaging is likely to be the first touchpoint for a consumer or patient when interacting with a medical product or device, so it plays a big part in those critical first impressions.

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As well as supporting brand messaging, designers must consider every interaction between the pack and the end-user, however small, to encourage people to engage with medical devices or drugs properly and maximize adoption, adherence, and safety, particularly in the home where there’s no healthcare professional present. Still, the opportunities to improve the patient experience often get overlooked due to the regulatory constraints. 

Those first few minutes or hours when the consumer or patient initially picks up the box need to be carefully curated. The packaging designer is, in effect, holding the end-user’s hand as they navigate each stage safely. As home health plays a larger role in the way we look after ourselves (many of us have experienced at-home Covid-19 testing), there’s a big job making the consumer feel positive about the experience. No one should feel worried, confused, embarrassed—or sicker!

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Curating the Journey

There are design methodologies we can use to achieve this. A hierarchical task analysis (HTA) helps map out the exact process we want the end-user or patient to take from the moment they receive the box. Then we use perception, cognition, and action analysis to drill down into each task and define what they will "perceive" via any of the five senses, what they should "understand" either through explanation or intuition, and what they should "do" next. This process is critical to uncover opportunities where design can improve the experience, mitigate risk, or both. 

These two methodologies also inform creative decisions, such as choice of imagery and color, information hierarchy, and even the fonts used. But the central question needing an answer at every stage of the process is will the patient understand what to do?

For primarily digital products, such as wearable devices or apps where onboarding happens on-screen, the role of packaging might be geared towards giving a perception of quality and encouraging the user to engage with the digital experience as quickly as possible. However, for other products, especially medical devices or drugs, there might be safety-critical information that needs to be understood, not to mention self-assembly required or complicated use sequences. 

That is where packaging can come into its own, but only if it’s considered an extension of the product and designed closely with it.

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Putting Power in Patients’ Hands

The pack for Proteus, the first FDA-approved ingestible sensor and wearable device that allows healthcare practitioners to monitor drug compliance remotely, was designed to make it easier for patients to set up at home. This was achieved with a thoroughly considered step-by-step unboxing experience and simple, compelling content created to reduce confusion. 

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Previously, the onboarding process required the presence of a trained healthcare professional. But by leveraging the physical packaging to reveal both informative messaging and components of the system in a concise and controlled way, we transitioned Proteus to a home-onboarding model, which was more commercially scalable and better for patients.

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Healthy.io is another brand changing the game in home health. The majority of diabetics and other at-risk people don’t take an annual urine test to check for kidney disease. Healthy.io’s packaging-plus-app approach invites end-users to "pee and click." The whole system is devised to reassure and simplify to encourage adoption. Healthy.io has successfully leveraged the potential of the packaging, which walks the user through the simple test using AI-based colorimetric analysis to evaluate the liquid. 

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Increasingly, medical and pharmaceutical companies are harnessing the opportunity presented by widening the scope of what defines a product to include its accessories, apps, packaging, instructions for use, and wider ecosystem—all of which work together to affect user experience and reduce margins for error.

As home-based healthcare and patient monitoring become an ever more critical part of the healthcare value chain, it’s meaningful for those involved with packaging design to understand the crucial and expanding role we can play in improving people’s lives.


Images courtesy of Tone Product Design.

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