New Tool: ProSource
Check out our packaging and processing solutions finder, ProSource.

How to Develop Healthcare Packaging Consistency Across Both Physical and Digital Markets

The digital revolution has changed the way patients access product information. Not aligning packaging on the shelf and online can be costly in multiple ways.

How to Develop Healthcare Packaging Consistency Across Both Physical and Digital Markets
How to Develop Healthcare Packaging Consistency Across Both Physical and Digital Markets

Only a decade ago the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries were a closed book to the public, with heavily regulated companies communicating in a very controlled way predominantly only to healthcare professionals. But the digital revolution has changed everything, forcing the industry online to ensure physicians, patients and the general public can access accurate information about their products and therapeutic areas.

In 2015, 43% of patients had done research online and explored potential treatments before ever speaking with a healthcare provider. Following a diagnosis, 84% of patients turned to an online search to learn about their treatment options. Among smartphone owners, 20% search for health information on a smartphone while in the exam room during a medical appointment.1 Healthcare professionals are also now similarly engaged online.

The packaging and labeling is often the first touchpoint people have with a product, whether in the pharmacy or online, and it is critical for healthcare companies that their brands’ physical and online packaging are aligned.

Here’s a look at how healthcare and life sciences companies can centralize all brand assets and bring control and visibility to their packaging and labeling, ensuring consistency across all channels.

Buoyant healthcare packaging market

According to a report from Visiongain, the global healthcare packaging market reached a value of $101.3 billion in 2015 and will grow at an annual growth rate of around 6% between now and 2025.2 And it is not just prescription-only medicines (POM) driving this market.

It is largely driven by the increase in over-the-counter (OTC) and off-the-shelf general sales list (GSL) medicines and lifestyle products. Areas of major growth in health-related packaging include supplements and vitamins, cosmeceuticals (cosmetic products containing biologically active ingredients purporting to have medical or drug-like benefits) and nutraceuticals (combining food and pharmaceuticals).

And in these areas, without the restrictive guidelines imposed on prescription-only medicines, there is even more desire from consumers to view products and interact online, to book appointments, buy products, comment in chatrooms, and review services and products on comparison sites.

Non-alignment is costly

There is a clear need for consistency across all channels, whether the product is in the POM/Rx, OTC or GSL market. However, currently there is often significant disparity in product packaging being displayed online by some brands compared to the physical product. It is a costly mistake to make. A 2013 Oracle report estimated that pharmaceutical companies lose an average potential of 15% of their annual revenue as a result of not offering a positive, consistent and brand-relevant patient experience.3

But it is not just the cost or the confusion for healthcare professionals and patients—it is also potentially non-compliant. The latest EU labeling rules, for example, not only require clearer and more prominent display of information on packaging, but also specify that compliance includes the digital shelf.

More important are inconsistencies and errors that pose a potential safety risk to patients.

“Ultimately, what we don’t want is the patient starting to have to question the information that’s provided—the information should always be correct,” says Andrew Love, Packaging and Artwork Management Strategist and VP at Be4ward Ltd., a firm that provides consulting services to the pharmaceutical and other regulated industries. “You shouldn’t have to think about it. You don’t get into your car each day and think, I wonder if the brakes are going to work today.”

‘Siloed’ infrastructures

What are the obstacles to alignment? In the digital landscape there are a multitude of different communication channels—from the physical product packaging and leaflet to social media, and everything in between. Each channel is often driven out of different departments and, in the case of digital media, on a timescale that is much faster than before.

Utilization of these new communication technologies has developed organically, leading to businesses ending up with a “siloed” departmental and back end infrastructure. This means that multi-channel communication is not always managed accurately or efficiently.

A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2015 revealed that three of the biggest internal barriers impacting the online healthcare professional and patient experience are silos within the organization, a lack of integrated information systems and inflexible technology and application infrastructure.4

Single source of truth

What does this all mean for healthcare and life sciences companies and the packaging and related communications around their products?

It means companies need to gain control and alignment across the digital and physical shelves. This can have several advantages, including greater agility and speed in executing design changes online, greater efficiency and cost control, greater brand consistency, improved time to market, innovation and, vitally, better compliance and reduced patient risk.

By centralizing all final brand assets, starting with packaging files, companies can publish and communicate with all stakeholders from a single source of truth. This single source of truth should encompass everything—specification, regulatory documentation, copy and text, labels, marketing brochures, videos, point-of-sale materials, etc. This method provides control of all assets used with visibility, traceability and management of how they are used and by whom, throughout the full product lifecycle and beyond.

Start with packaging

The physical product that ends up on the retail shelf is still the best starting point. Traditionally, the product packaging and labeling is at the core and is what people trust. It is the physical embodiment of the brand and, if you start there, you can more easily integrate all the digital aspects that are derived from the final product.

It also makes sense to solve the issue at the source. In the pharmaceutical industry, 50% of product recalls are estimated to be due to labeling errors. Stopping it at its source will save money and time, as well as reducing risk and strengthening the brand.

“The further down the supply chain the error gets, the more serious it is because the closer to the patient it becomes,” says Love. “The last thing that you want to do there is find a mistake because then you have to go back through the whole loop again.”

Attacking this issue from both a workflow and an integrated QA/QC standpoint can improve overall quality. By streamlining and automating workflow, stakeholders are notified via e-mail that they have a packaging review pending so it is not missed. This same automation can trigger QA/QC tools such as text, braille, spelling, and proof inspection so human error is reduced by as much as possible. A huge benefit to this approach is that it also allows for centralization of brand and labeling information that can then be systematically used by the company and its suppliers for complete consistency.

Regain control

It is recommended by specialists familiar with packaging for healthcare companies to have a workflow solution that allows them to synchronize control of their artwork. The best way to do that is to develop digital brand content in tight integration with the same workflows used to create and manage artwork for the physical package.

You need to ensure only your latest, approved artwork is used for both your printed and virtual product. Consider specifying explicit standards for packaging on the digital shelf in your brand guidelines to promote consistency across all products. Conduct regular reviews online—and ask local affiliates to do likewise to ensure these standards are being maintained. Rely on companies that specialize in packaging solutions and workflow solutions.


  1. Pharma 3D, The Wharton School, McKinsey & Co., and Google, April, 2016
  2. Visiongain. Healthcare packaging market forecast 2015-2025. March 2015.
  3. O’Keefe & Co for Oracle, 2013
  4. The Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2015

—Philippe Adam is the Vice President, Global Marketing, for Esko, a global supplier of integrated solutions for the packaging and labels, sign and display, commercial printing and publishing industries. Esko products and services aim to drive profitability in the packaging and printing supply chain by reducing time-to-market and raising productivity.

Discover Our Content Hub
Access Healthcare Packaging's free educational content library!
Read More
Discover Our Content Hub
Test Your Supply Chain Smarts
Take Healthcare Packaging's supply chain quiz to prove your knowledge!
Read More
Test Your Supply Chain Smarts