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Live from HealthPack: 9 Reasons Your Company May Be Resisting Packaging Innovation

Subconscious or not, innovation and compliance are often seen as mutually exclusive in medical device packaging. Are these commonly held beliefs keeping your product from reaching its packaging potential?

Paul Marshall, CPPL, Manager of Global Packaging Technologies at Smith & Nephew, talks innovation and compliance in med device packaging.
Paul Marshall, CPPL, Manager of Global Packaging Technologies at Smith & Nephew, talks innovation and compliance in med device packaging.

Medical device packaging innovations offer important benefits, not the least of which is the potential for improved patient outcomes. At HealthPack 2017 in Denver, Paul Marshall, CPPL, Manager of Global Packaging Technologies at Smith & Nephew, asserted that innovation and compliance—which are often viewed as opposing forces in medical device packaging development—should actually go hand in hand, much like chocolate and peanut butter (unless you have a peanut allergy).

In order to determine appropriate action in the quest of boosting packaging innovation, we must take a look at the root causes, identifying reasons for various stakeholders’ resistance. (Stay tuned for part two of this article, where we’ll focus on steps to take to overcome these challenges.)

Company culture

  1. Marshall noted that there is certainly a mentality of “It’s just packaging” at many companies. There is no specific standard or regulatory body that says packaging has to be innovative and go above and beyond the function of getting the product to the customer safely. But, he said, that mentality is changing.

  2. The old adage that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” also applies. With tight timelines and resources, it can be hard to justify spending additional time and money on a design that is already working, in lieu of focusing on the next product’s packaging.

  3. Management is not committed to the risk of innovation. “Innovation can and will fail. If it was easy, anyone would do it,” said Marshall. If management is not comfortable with this idea, employees are that much more likely to stick with the existing design. “How they manage failure is very important. If [managers are] not receptive to the risk of innovation, who’s gonna sign up to do it?”

  4. New packages are tied to project schedules. The package is usually the last part of the project—with the least amount of time—to be completed.

  5. The ROI is difficult to quantify. Marshall noted that healthcare providers are not likely to come out and say, “We love [your competitor’s] product and yours. But we love your packaging so we’ll buy that.” While it may be hard to quantify the value of an innovative packaging design, that value is there and does play a role.

Risk aversion

  1. Aversion to risk in terms of patient safety is a reasonable human concern. A company could have a wonderful product that saves lives, but the thought of damaging a patient’s quality of life due to packaging is often enough to sway people from making changes.

  2. Because people see the dollar value of recalls or field actions (but not the value of an updated design), it can be hard to overcome those fears. Why invest time, money and resources into packaging innovation when the change might be subject a company to increased risk of recall?

  3. Any design that is new, unique or different has the potential to garner auditor attention. Many companies prefer not to add scrutiny to their processes, designs and test methods.

  4. Again, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” surfaces in regard to risk. With legacy products, people do not want to risk damaging their long-standing brand by making changes. Will the new design affect perception of what’s already on the shelf? Will end users be concerned about the new packaging design?

Editor's Note: For Part Two of this series, 3 Examples of Value-Added Device Packaging, click here.

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