Human Factors in Healthcare Packaging

Human factors is the study of how humans behave and interact with objects or services within an environment. It’s existed under many different names over time, but human factors seems to be the one that has stuck. While the field has expanded widely in the digital age–understanding how humans interact with parts of a system essentially defines a great web user experience–it has chiefly been the domain of medical devices.  For obvious reasons, it’s necessary to know how a device that regulates a heart rhythm or helps someone hear needs to work well with the human body. But just as the study has taken on new life in other formats, so can human factors inform another key medical area: healthcare packaging. 

Healthcare Packaging Defined by Human Factors

The ultimate goal of human factors applied to a product is to ensure that it’s safe and easy to use in the real world. It’s a good guideline for any product, but especially when we’re talking about medical device packaging or healthcare packaging in general. In fact, it was made a regulatory requirement by the FDA in 1990 for healthcare. healthcare packaging

Human factors sets out to study and answer three distinct questions at the outset: 

  • Who is the user?
  • What are they trying to do?
  • What is the environment of use?

HealthcarePackaging.com frames some of the scenarios for how these questions might be answered. This line of questioning is known as contextual inquiry. It reveals the key points needed to determine packaging requirements. For example, a hearing aid will need different medical packaging than a set of surgical instruments. Human factors studies, and contextual inquiries, are best conducted with actual users and customers…AKA outside of your boardroom and employee pool. It’s impossible for those close to a product to have an actual consumer mindset. And chances are that the intended use of a product will vary from how it’s actually used.

Integrating the Findings

The study detailed in the article linked above focused on finding ways to make sure the packaging reduces stress for users and simplifies things. In their study, they timed things like how long it took users to open the custom package. They also created graphics based on their findings, like the actual environment where the product is used, and how it fits in, as well as storyboards detailing how the task completion played out for various test subjects. 

Armed with this research, organizations can start to refine their healthcare packaging model. Find ways to reduce complexity and increase understanding for how users should actually be using the product.  

The bottom line? You might think you know how customers engage with healthcare packaging, but you have no idea.

Healthcare Packaging Through 2026

The healthcare packaging market outlook through 2026 was released earlier today (October 20, 2016). This research, conducted and produced by Commodity Inside, attempts to predict the future of the market. It helps producers and manufacturers alike know what to expect in terms of medical packaging trends and requirements. The report also provides a commentary on both existing and emerging markets, particularly where organizations may want to focus attention going forward.

Elements Affecting Healthcare PackagingCustom box for medical market

On average, countries spend 10% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (or GDP) in the health sector every year. Populations are growing in nearly every corner of the globe. This leads to increased urbanization, increased aging population, and an overall increase in healthcare spending from consumers as well. The increase in demand is expected to continue to rise into the future.

Asia is driving much of the growth in healthcare packaging. Globally, the demand grew in 2015 by 5.6%. This equates to $65.8 billion worldwide. It’s a sizeable market, to say the least, and one still expected to grow by at least that amount in the next decade (another source predicts hitting $82 billion by 2021).  The 2026 outlook includes chapters focusing specifically on:

  • Asia (China and Japan, specifically)
  • Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom)
  • North America (Canada and USA)
  • Latin America (Brazil)
  • Australia
  • Middle East/Africa (Egypt and South Africa)

Each section includes a market review and a market outlook.  An appendix provides further macroeconomic information.

Medical developments are driving the demand as well. As devices become more lightweight and efficient, packaging needs to reflect those updates. Additionally, medical device packaging needs to meet the needs of consumers. That might mean using magnetic closures on boxes to aid in opening. It might mean integrating carrying components, like handles built into containers, so devices are more mobile. And, like phones and laptops, healthcare developers are always looking to make devices lighter. This means that packages need to take on more protective roles. Look for more rigid setup boxes, thermoformed protective cavities and other custom features.

About Commodity Inside

In addition to healthcare packaging, Commodity Inside also produces reports on corrugated packaging, flexible paper packaging, folding cartons, and more.

Medical Packaging For Boomers

Nearly 27% of the population of the United States was born between 1946 and 1964. Termed the Baby Boomers, this generation has stampeded its way through the decades and are now arriving at retirement age. While aging typically indicates health decline, this generation is bucking that trend (or segments of them are). They're eating better, exercising more, taking preventative measures designed to help them not only live longer, but have a higher quality of life as well. Their expectations are higher than previous generations; baby boomers also tend to have more money and are generally wealthier. They want the best--and they can probably pay for it--in their products, and that includes medical packaging.

Medical packaging presentation packaging for baby boomers

How Baby Boomers Affect Medical Packaging

The enormous influence of the baby boomer generation reflects its size and spending power. Their needs regarding medical packaging are unique to the industry; they love new and innovative styles, but still need to have ease of opening. Think of a bottle of aspirin. It's a common joke, but sometimes the childproof lock defeats adult logic. Add in arthritic hands and possibly declining mental state, and pill-sized pain relief becomes an insurmountable task.  

For the product above, Sunpack created a box with light magnetic closure. This ensures that it won't open accidentally but is easy enough to slip open when needed.

The design of the medical packaging is important as well when it comes to the user's ability to remove it from the package. In the aspirin example from above, it's easy to shake out too many and lose some of the medication. It's not a huge factor with something relatively low-cost, like aspirin, but becomes exponentially more important with the medicine itself. Being able to package an actual device, such as the Axionics device in the picture, securely is step one. Step two is creating a tray which can not only securely hold the device, but allows for semi-easy removal. The thumb holes around each part of the device help ensure a firm grasp prior to lifting.

Vision is another consideration for medical packaging designed for baby boomers. Naturally, as we age, our vision tends to decrease. Medical packaging needs to be clear and concise in design as well as content.  Devices need to be easily identifiable, but that doesn't mean devoid of creativity. For Axionics, you can see the design is deceptively simple, elegant, and with simple fonts to aid comprehension. While white is the dominant color within the design, choosing a bright, single accent color reduces visual clutter.

Karten medical packaging custom tray

Keep It Simple

When it comes to baby boomers and medical packaging, HealthcarePackaging.com said it best:

This consumer segment is looking for brands that will help them take care of themselves and better their lives, without constantly reminding them that they aren’t actually as young as they think they are.

Packaging is great way to connect with an audience. It not only entices people to try it, but if it offers a pleasurable experience, it guarantees referrals and repeat business. Sunpack can help design products that meet this need for your products.