In a Down Economy, Up Your Packaging Investments

 

A popular topic during trade show travels this fall was the economy. “How is the economy affecting investments in packaging equipment and innovative materials?” exhibitors asked our staff at Pack Expo International and MD&M Midwest shows.

How did we answer? Well, we aren’t usually in the business of giving financial predictions, let alone advice. (Thank goodness! We could have been among those criticized for not calling out 2008’s financial troubles!)

But now may be the worst time to cut back on packaging expenditures. In fact, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers need to increase their investments in packaging. Their use of innovations may be key to overall savings in the healthcare industry.

How can I be so bold? After all, a study from the Commonwealth Fund found that more than half of chronically ill patients in the United States did not get recommended care, fill prescriptions, or see a doctor when sick because of costs, reports the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association. Couldn’t dropping demand for pharmaceuticals and medical devices expose the typically insulated healthcare sector to financial trouble?

That same study, however, found that “one-third of patients in the United States—more than in any other country—reported either being given the wrong medication or dosage, experiencing a medical error, receiving incorrect test results, or facing delays in hearing about abnormal test results.” Imagine the money that is being spent by insurers and patients alike to correct these medical errors. Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, reports that “one study found that mistakes cost insurers $9.3 billion in extra charges.”

Preventing such wasteful spending is precisely why the entire healthcare system needs to bring about the next generation of packaging and automatic identification technologies to eliminate errors. Packaging that eases identification—or automates it, removing the potential for human error—can reduce a sizable number of these errors.

Still not convinced that packaging can save the healthcare system money, even in a down economy? Imagine all the money that was spent this year on product safety recalls. Unique package identification could limit recalls to affected product batches.

If savings from error reductions and targeted recalls still don’t entice you, here is my final plea for packaging investments—invest in anticounterfeiting technology. At Pack Expo our senior editor David Vaczek heard a conference speaker predict increased counterfeiting during a troubled economy. Cash-strapped consumers look for bargains anywhere they can. Your brands could be subject to new assaults.

Economic troubles will undoubtedly influence company investments for months to come. Packaging technology, however, should be put to work in reducing total healthcare costs and increasing patient safety.

Daphne Allen
Editor

Editor’s note: In the October 2008 Webcast Wrap-Up Part 2, I wrote: “Phase II and III clinical trials need to use child-resistant compliance packaging if products are meant to be used in the household.” Since the Webcast addressed compliance packaging, my point was that compliance packaging for Phase II and Phase III clinical trials must be child resistant if the product is meant to be used in the household. We did not mean to imply that all Phase II and Phase III clinical trial packaging must be compliance packaging.

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