Product IDs First, Corporate Logos Second

Labeling should allow instant identification of products.

Some medical practitioners have reported that the trend in pharmaceutical labeling to emphasize the brand-name trademark and to minimize the drug name arouses fear. It is all too easy for doctors and patients to fail to identify the drug they are using when its name is given scant room and poor placement on the package.

Robert I. Goldberg, PhD, executive director, Center for Packaging Education Inc.

Most marketing and management professionals have been schooled in brand dominance and trademark differentiation. Pharmaceutical packaging has followed the brand emphasis trend, and some consumers have become more loyal to particular brands than to individual products. But the alarming reports of mistaken identity have fostered a dramatic halt to conventional packaging design thinking. Currently, more groups are reconsidering drug labeling and packaging issues from individually shaped unit-dose packages to improved label readability and extreme accuracy in bar coding.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association has provided the industry with printing guidelines that have been proven to improve package readability. Packaging industry committees as well as consumer safety groups have suggested uniform information guidelines. Pharmaceutical industry leaders are proposing 100% inspection of bar codes and the establishment of a bar code security system. And hospital physicians now conduct morbidity and mortality conferences when it is suspected that visual mistakes on labeling may have led to patient demise. Nevertheless, despite the incorporation of many safety procedures and packaging reevaluations, the occurrence of misidentification is reported to exceed 6%.

Some years ago I conducted a research project involving the New York City Emergency Medical Service. Suggesting a medical emergency on a dimly illuminated city street, we asked the emergency medical ambulance attendants to open their field kits and quickly extract medicines as they were prescribed through their telephone headsets by the physician on duty at headquarters. It was observed that 15% of their selections were incorrect at the first try. Subsequently in a talk before pharmaceutical executives, I presented color slides of these packages, and the attendees agreed that careful scrutiny was necessary to ensure proper identification of those medicines.

For many years the industry has differentiated pills by their color and shape. The Physician's Desk Reference displays them full size as a guide to physicians. Some industry leaders are considering this direction for standardizing the shape, color, and style of packaging for generic pharmaceuticals used in hospitals and even dispensed for patients' home use.

Some multiproduct marketers like Procter & Gamble have almost eliminated their corporate identity and created brands from product names. OTC drug marketers have followed with line extensions of products that sell in relatively high volume, such as Tylenol and Bayer.

With increased facility in plastic blow molding and multiple-die injection molding, countless container shapes can be mass-produced. Product names should be dominant on all labels, generic names sized in proportion to the width of the labels, and corporate identification and trademarks noted on the lower third of the reverse side. Major brands with featured corporate identity will undoubtedly disagree with this formula, but something must be suggested by industry before an irate congressman decides to end medical misidentification by proposing unpopular federal packaging legislation.    

For further information, contact the Center for Packaging Education Inc., 221-B Heritage Hills, Somers, NY 10589; phone 914/276-0425; fax 914/276-0428. The Center is a not-for-profit educational corporation chartered by the State of New York.

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