Laura Bix is a professor of packaging at Michigan State University “What? A PHD in packaging? Are you making pizza boxes?”
Bix says this is the first thing people think of. But her focus is not pizza. Bix specializes in improving medical packaging, which she says is a life and death issue. “Giving you the wrong drug at minimum isn’t going to provide the therapeutic effects. And the other side of that is that it may kill you.” The Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 98,000 people die each year because of medical error. In an emergency room, Bix says clearly labeled supplies are crucial. “People have to make decisions under extreme circumstances. There are multiple providers that are barking orders so labeling takes on a whole different level of importance when seconds count.” Bix says the design solutions can be surprisingly simple. For example if the spelling of two medications looks the same, capitalizing the part that is different can significantly improve text recognition. There’s another aspect of medical packaging, and that is its environmental impact. Many medical devices come wrapped in sterile packaging. As a result, hospitals are one of the biggest contributors to landfills in urban areas. Kevin Mulligan is a consultant who works to reduce the ecological impact of packaging. He says these improvements can also increase the bottom line. He uses his work with a catheter company as an example. Previously the product was packaged in a rigid tray. Now it comes in a flexible, recyclable bag: “We really went through the packaging systems and changed the materials that were used. And were able to reduce the size of the package by about 30%. It saved money for the manufacturer and it also significantly saved money for the hospitals. So there’s less waste going into the system.” Bix, Mulligan and other industry leaders will gather today in Philadelphia at the Pharmaceutical Packaging Leadership Summit to discuss future challenges and innovations.