7 Trends In Healthcare
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Seven Trends in Pharma and Medical Device Packaging
In spite of the challenges of the tragic pandemic, innovation is moving forward in the life sciences. Here are some of the top trends Healthcare Packaging (HCP) is seeing in the healthcare packaging community, and the pharma and device industries as a whole.
Trend #1: The rise of biomimicry
The first topic is exciting for many on a personal and professional level: the rise of biomimicry in the healthcare.
With climate change, people from all sectors—not just designers—are increasingly thinking about nature and how it’s solved problems and managed "waste" through millennia of trial and error.
While HCP has been covering nature-inspired design for some time, there is an uptick of products, packaging and research, including surgical staples derived from the concepts of porcupine quills and research from the Universities of Surrey and Sussex on low-cost sensors that take cues from peacocks and beetles’ exoskeletons.
Recently, CorWave raised another 35 million euro in series C funding for its breakthrough heart pump, inspired by the undulating movement of marine animals.
One unique invention launched this year is a spherical shipper that floats on water inside of an outer rectangular container to keep delicate microtissues upright in shipment.
The great thing about this trend is that inspiration comes from getting outside… making a walk through the park, an hike or a just look out the window a necessary part of the workday.
Trend #2: The need for more precise dosing
This is a trend in medical devices, pharmaceutical packaging and cannabis, for two different reasons:
1. Drugs are becoming more potent, so doses are becoming smaller.
2. We’re seeing a large rise in the population of seniors globally. Many plan to age in place, and this means packaging will need to be patient-centric, and home healthcare-ready.
Because of these changes in both drug potency and global demographics, we’re seeing a strong focus on micro-dosing, whether it’s for cannabis, injectables, or for metering out mini-tablets from a bottle.
Packaging can already be a challenge for seniors and it will play a pivotal role in conveniently dosing potent drugs, especially for those who may have vision or dexterity issues and can’t see or control doses with ease.
Patients of all ages are looking for ways to diagnose and treat conditions safely in the home for dignity and comfort, as well as for reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the health- care setting.
Trend #3: Traceability moves along
The industry is making strides with Unique Device Identification for medical devices and the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) on the pharma side.
2020 was supposed to be a banner year for meeting the saleable returns mandate for drugs, but COVID has delayed some efforts. The FDA announced in fall that the enforcement date for wholesalers to verify saleable returned product was postponed to 2023.
While it’s quite an undertaking, benefits are emerging for patient safety in part because this level of traceability for devices and drugs will make recalls easier. One pharmacist interviewed said he’s really excited about the DSCSA. Recalls are critical, and they’re often a manual process, with technicians walking the aisles to check lot numbers and pull product from shelves.
With a digital supply chain and serialized units of sale, they’ll be able to quickly where know product has been dispersed and what has been administered to patients. This means they can craft very specific recall interventions, which can boost brand reputation.
Trend #4: COVID-19 speeds automation
Manufacturers are moving at truly amazing speeds to add automation to meet public health need. While we know that such speeds can’t be sustained indefinitely, it’s showing just how nimble healthcare manufacturers and their machine builders are when an emergency arises. In some cases, OEMs were driving parts out to facilities because they just couldn’t wait for overnight shipping when every hour counted.
It’s also showing what’s possible with remote services like virtual FATs (vFATs) and remote installation—things that the healthcare industry has shied away from in the past. While these services were adopted due to sheer need (including travel bans) some companies have already declared that they plan to continue remote and virtual services moving forward.
While less social, this will ultimately save on carbon footprint and travel costs, too. Just be sure to have a cybersecurity plan in place when adopting remote services.
Trend #5: Sustainable procurement initiatives advance
With the increasing cost of disposal and transportation, as well as some less than favorable headlines in the news about packaging waste, we’re seeing more “life cycle analyses” among health systems when purchasing products.
Earlier this fall, I interviewed Beth Eckl from Practice Greenhealth about the organization’s new Sustainable Procurement Guide for health systems. They encourage hospitals to look at the total cost of ownership of a medical product—including costs to use and to dispose. Systems can sometimes identify significant savings just by looking beyond the purchase price.
The organization also has a robust awards program identifying the top 25 environmental excellence winners at their site with topic areas including energy, waste reduction, and more.
Related to that, there is a continued push for reusable thermal transport packaging in the healthcare field. ISTA’s Pharma Committee is boosting adoption in the industry with best practice guidelines on OQs and more for reusables. With COVID-19, temperature-controlled logistics will be critical.
Checking out the ISTA Pharma Committee for more info and how you can get involved.
Trend #6: Cannabis still faces growing pains
Social equity programs have varying levels of success, and predatory loans can take power from minority-owned businesses.
The industry as a whole is still looking for more eco-friendly packaging, but at present it’s hard to balance child-resistance requirements with the desire for minimal packaging, particularly with smaller volume ordering.
Additionally, COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior. Many dispensaries require customers to buy online and pick up in store, so customers are no longer wandering the aisles looking for what’s new.
This is an opportunity for brand owners to talk with retailers and find different ways to engage. Franny Tacy of Franny's Farmacy noted that text campaigns, local ads, Facebook messenger, chatboxes, and more have become valuable resources. Everything is designed to connect and engage with customers and these are channels she expects to keep up with in the long term.
Trend #7: A word of caution on re-used packaging filled with fake product
Healthcare products will always be a target for counterfeiters, but in the coming few years, fears over COVID-19 mean bad actors are particularly motivated. Occurrence may be infrequent, but people can theoretically remove legitimate packaging from hospital waste bins and refill it with fake products (and this was a known issue pre-COVID-19).
Traceability suppliers have solutions, but hospital staff must also be educated on how to ensure product is legitimate and how to properly dispose of packaging (or ensure a secure waste stream). Manufacturers of high-target products may consider looking at tamper-evident packaging systems that cannot be re-purposed by counterfeiters.
If updating packaging, it’s also worth considering labeling materials that withstand UV sterilization in hospital rooms.