Updated: Aug 24
The role of packaging in healthcare e-commerce has increased substantially over the past few years. How can packaging positively contribute to the healthcare e-commerce boom?
The past few years have seen a significant increase in healthcare e-commerce. The growing popularity of purchasing healthcare products and services online has been perpetuated by lifestyle changes associated with COVID-19.
With the breadth of online options available to consumers, what is the The Role Of Packaging In Healthcare E-Commerce Boom? Furthermore, what can the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors do to keep up with increased packaging demands?
Quality Control Through Smart Packaging
In our last article, we discussed the role of smart packaging design in the pharmaceutical industry. As discussed, smart packaging comes in two formats: (1) active packaging and (2) intelligent packaging. Both types of smart packaging are efficient ways to ensure quality control of pharmaceutical products throughout the supply chain.
Active packaging physically protects products from exposure to oxygen and moisture. This is achieved through the inclusion of secondary materials in a packaging system (e.g., sachets and pads that absorb gas and moisture). It can also include the addition of oxygen-absorbing materials directly into a product’s primary packaging. Both are effective ways to ensure pharmaceutical products and medications are transported under optimal conditions.
Intelligent packaging is used to monitor, rather than alter, the conditions of the contents of a package and its surrounding environment. Intelligent packaging can determine whether a product has been exposed to oxygen or to a temperature outside its optimal range.
It can also determine when a medication cap is first removed, the number of pills in a bottle, when a pill is removed, and when a pill is returned to its bottle. Intelligent packaging can therefore detect when a product has been tampered with. This has significant implications for pharmaceutical e-commerce, especially with regards to the transport of controlled substances like methadone.
The Proliferation of Child Resistant Packaging
Many households have opted for home delivery of medications and pharmaceuticals in response to the pandemic. With the possibility of having additional pharmaceutical products around the house, it is more important than ever for companies to offer a range of child resistant packaging for pharmaceuticals. Currently, there are many types of child resistant packaging solutions available for a wide range of products, including child resistant:
Caps, closures, and blister packaging
Sprays (e.g., nasal, corticosteroid, asthma, etc.)
Resealable CR cartons with added push points along the sides
Pouches with traditional pinch and slide seals, variations on pinch and slide seals (e.g., pouches that open from the side instead of top), pinch sliders, zippers, etc.
With healthcare e-commerce still growing, it is crucial to continue developing new pharmaceutical packaging solutions with innovative child resistant features to keep children safe from harm.
Communication Through Packaging
The growing popularity of telehealth and telemedicine has brought with it a demand for effective remote communication between healthcare providers and patients. For example, more patients are taking diagnostic tests at home. Not only do testing products require additional packaging features to prevent contamination during collection and transport, but they also require the addition of complex instructions. To ensure appropriate product use, these instructions must be written clearly using language that can be easily interpreted and followed by a range of consumers. This also includes using large text for those with vision loss.
Providing additional instructions on packaging illustrates a one-way communicative function of pharmaceutical packaging. While beneficial, can technology allow for advanced two-way communication to enhance compliance p ackaging and keep physicians and patients connected? Near Field Communication (NFC) technology has indeed made this possible.
Near Field Communication Technology
Simply put, NFC is a type of wireless communication technology often used in smartphones. NFC technology can now be embedded into labels, packaging, products, and other materials to allow for new forms of consumer engagement.
Adding NFC technology to compliance packaging can greatly improve medication adherence. Not only can consumers receive product information by simply tapping an embedded NFC label, but consumers can also tap to indicate when they take a prescribed dose. This information is helpful in preventing accidental double dosing. In addition, the data can be sent to a healthcare provider to assess medication compliance. Physicians can even set dose reminders that can be communicated through notifications sent to an app, mobile device, or landline. Printed electronics can also be added directly to blister packaging to instantly detect when a blister has been accessed.
In addition to communication, embedded NFC technology can also be used to improve product security by enabling real-time tracking of packages during transport. This technology can relay data regarding current conditions of the packaging like location, temperature, humidity, and damage to the package (e.g., if the package is ripped open, dropped, etc.). NFC can create a more efficient system for monitoring the security of pharmaceutical products during the journey from supplier to consumer.
Reducing E-Commerce Packaging Waste
Reducing E-Commerce Packaging Waste
Given the nature of pharmaceutical products, such online purchases require additional layers of packaging for safety, security, and quality control. These extra packaging components produce additional waste that can negatively impact the environment. This is especially problematic given the increasing consumer demand for sustainable packaging.
To minimize the impact of e-commerce waste, all additional packaging should strive to do the following:
Be recyclable, biodegradable, or reusable.
Reduce or eliminate the use of plastics.
Avoid EPS foam insulators given its high carbon footprint.
Replace foam inserts with custom carboard inserts.
Leverage smart packaging to ensure optimal product conditions.
Stop overpacking and using unnecessary fillers.
Use flexible packaging when possible as it takes up less space than rigid packaging and may reduce overpacking.
Furthermore, packaging must be easily recyclable to promote sustainable behaviours in consumers. This means using large symbols on the packaging to clearly indicate when a material is recyclable or compostable. Using cardboard and other paper-based products can aid in promoting sustainable packaging disposal as consumers can easily identify these materials as being recyclable. With varying types of plastics, it becomes difficult for consumers to determine whether the packaging can in fact be recycled.
Packaging has been crucial to the healthcare e-commerce boom. Smart packaging and NFC have allowed packaging to transcend its basic functions and enhance pharmaceutical e-commerce. However, there are many other factors to be considered, including the importance of:
Anti-counterfeit packaging solutions.
Consumer centric packaging.
Enhancing the consumer experience.
Reducing exposure to COVID-19 through packaging.
Considering the size and durability of packaging to reduce product damage during transport.
Packaging considerations for over-the-counter versus online purchases
Pharmaceutical packaging solutions must continue to evolve in order to keep up with the growing demands of healthcare e-commerce.