Pharma Packaging Needs Dose of Improvement

Packaging Digest editor Lisa Pierce speaks with Walter Berghahn, executive director of the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council, for a glimpse into the current state of compliance packaging, and its future.

Not taking their medications as prescribed, a.k.a. non-adherence, costs Americans dearly. In July 2008, the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy cited poor adherence in the U.S. as the primary cause for 125,000 deaths annually and an estimated 10 to 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions.

So how can we improve adherence?

A new white paper from the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council (HCPC) compiles the results of eight separate studies conducted over the past two decades that support the use of compliance-prompting, calendarized packaging as a successful tool for improving patient adherence. (See "8 studies; 1 conclusion" below.) The white paper—which also identifies passive, active and interactive packaging solutions available today—can be downloaded for free at

Walter Berghahn, HCPC executive director, and president of SmartRmeds for Life, says, "We've collected these results in one comprehensive document that supports greater use of compliance-prompting packaging to improve patient adherence and improve health outcomes. At a time when healthcare costs are out of control, here is a simple solution that can have significant impact on cost reduction."

Packaging Digest recently talked with Berghahn about the state of the compliance-prompting packaging market and how it can be improved.

Q. What types of compliance-prompting packages are currently available?
A: Probably too many to list. But if we define it as a package with graphics, text or other features that prompt patients to take their medication, we can include:
• Injection molded multi-piece cases with inserted drug carriers (birth control compacts);
• Paperboard walleted blisters (DosePak);
• Molded cases with blister access (ShellPak);
• Smart caps for vials with timers, lights, buzzers;
• Free-standing blisters with printed prompts, calendar reminders and such;
• Some blisters simply have a pressure-sensitive label in place providing both prompt and child resistance (CR).

Q: What percentage of Rx medicines are now packed in compliance-prompting packs?
A: The best I can do here is extrapolate, since there are no hard figures.

Currently we dispense 3.4 billion scrips a year in the U.S. Approximately 12 million women use birth control pills in the U.S. x 12 months so 144 million packs. Walmart's use of MWV's ShellPak is estimated at 130 million packs from various sources.
There are dozens of smaller companies with commercial applications in compliance packs. MWV boasts 35 commercial applications of DosePak (if conservatively estimated at 1 million each) and its new Renew version is touted as being used in more than 2,000 pharmacies.

Companies like Anderson [now AndersonBrecon], Catalent, Sharp, BurgoPak, StoraEnzo, Keystone, Intini, Rondo and Nosco all have commercial applications of their proprietary-designed compliance formats in both branded and generic pharmaceutical applications. If each of them only has 3 to 4 million units annually—which I think is low—that would add another 25 to 30 million units. So...solid known numbers of 275 million between birth control and Wal-Mart. The rest could be another 60 to 70 million, but I don't have any figures to support this.

If you accept this logic, somewhere between 8 percent (275 million of 3.4 billion) and 10 percent (345 million of 3.4 billion) is in true compliance format.

One other point: Bar-coded blisters, Hospital Unit Dose (HUD), are used in more than 20 percent of hospitals in the U.S. While lacking the calendarized feature of many compliance packs, the sole purpose of this format is to assist in the accurate administration of medications in an institutional setting with the goal of reducing errors (right patient, right drug, right dose, right time)—a key form of compliance.

As well, the growth of the 28- to 30-count "bingo" blister cards in long-term care settings continues—to, again, reduce errors and manage complex regimens. I don't know the percentage of LTCs, nursing homes and such that use these, but I can't recall being in one within the last five years that didn't. Not sure what this adds to the doses managed but it would be significant and it would take the nationally recognized number for blisters up significantly. I think estimates are still 8 to 10 percent of doses in blisters.

Read the full Packaging Digest article here.

No votes yet