How Packaging Helps Improve Medication Adherence

Expert Interview

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In the world of medication, packaging can make all the difference. Sead Ferhatovic from Jones Healthcare Group joins Drug Topics to talk about blister packs, automation in prescription packaging, and more.

Drug Topics: Hello, everyone. I'm Quinn from Drug Topics, and we are joined today by Sead from Jones Healthcare Group, we're super excited to have him! Sead, if you just want to introduce yourself, give a quick overview of your role at Jones, and kind of what you guys do and the products and services you provide at Jones, that'd be great.

Sead Ferhatovic: Sure. My name is Sead Ferhatovic. I'm the director of market strategy and business development for our medication adherence business unit. Jones is a global provider of advanced healthcare packaging and medication dispensing solutions, including medication adherence packaging dispensed to patients by pharmacists.

DT: So at Jones, you guys are all about sustainability and being environmentally friendly. What is the process of making sure that Jones products, specifically the blister packs, are sustainable and environmentally friendly?

SF: Well, let me start by saying that we are cognizant of having to do our part when it comes to protecting the environment. Sustainability is a topic that is top of mind for us. But what's even more encouraging is that sustainability is becoming critical to our pharmacy customers and their patients, which only increases our motivation to drive sustainability initiatives forward. We approach sustainability by focusing on circular design principles in our product development, which means we select materials and suppliers that lower environmental footprints while maintaining the necessary specifications for healthcare packaging. We've adopted a packaging lifecycle assessment tool to evaluate and compare packagings environmental footprint with quantifiable data in areas such as greenhouse gas emissions, water use, fossil fuel use. The tool helps assess impact by analyzing variables like human impact and material circularity. We also have a clearly laid out product sustainability roadmap, and a goal to have a fully recyclable product portfolio by the end of 2025. Our team is investigating a myriad of options for design, materials, assembly as well as potential plastics collections and recycling programs. As an important step in our journey, we are the first and only company in the space to launch blister packs constructed with bio-PET, which is a fully recyclable bio-based plastic made from sugar waste. Furthermore, on top of our internal product plans, we stay close to, and participate in, the latest industry thought leadership initiatives. We've partnered with several organizations and associations, such as the Sustainable Medicines Partnership, and Global Self-Care Federation, so that we can benefit from a broader set of resources and knowledge as we continue our sustainability journey.

DT: We know that Jones Healthcare Blister Packs make life easier for the patients, but how do they help organize healthcare professionals like pharmacists, or nurses? What's the professional benefit of something like the blister packs and the other products you offer?

SF: Sure, let's first consider long term care homes where nurses use unit dose blister packs to dispense medications to residents. Blister packs make it very clear what meds should be given to whom and when. These packs are also tamper-evident, so it's easy to see which doses have already been accessed. Now, compare this to nurses wrangling vials for dozens of residents under their care. Simply put blister packs are a better solution to keep track, especially if there are multiple nurses caring for residents in the same day. Ultimately, the packs help remove guesswork to improve patient safety. On the other hand, when we think about retail pharmacy settings, we can consider the multidose multidose blister pack. This is an important tool within a pharmacies medication management program, providing a very simple way to organize medications for patients by the time of day and day of the week they need to be taken, with every compartment on the pack being clearly labeled. Now, regarding Jones Blister Packs, we see several benefits. One, our blister packaging makes it very easy for a pharmacist to educate patients and help keep them on track with medications, something that can be incredibly challenging if patients take five or more meds in a day. Two, blister packs are counseling support tool. A pharmacist can review the calendar pack with a patient, leveraging visual cues to help increase understanding of what needs to be taken and when. This increases patient trust in the pharmacist as a primary care provider. And three, blister packs also enable pharmacies to reconcile medications and fill multiple prescriptions for patients at once consolidating the prescription refill process for the patient and for the pharmacy.

DT: How to blister packs need to evolve to sort of support increasing levels of automation in pharmacies and move to a centralized fulfillment?

SF: In centralized fulfillment, speed and repeatability are critical. Blister packs have to eliminate any bottlenecks associated with the sealing and checking process and help streamline operator workflow. Every step in the adherence package sealing process matters and must be analyzed in order to assess issues or gaps in order to make improvements. For example, printing separate labels and applying them to a package can be replaced by printing directly on the packages themselves. Similarly, blister pack design needs to be optimized to eliminate any redundant features that can increase your workflow time or just the time to assemble a pack. Also, blister and seal design needs to be completed in collaboration with the automation technology manufacturers to enable effective integration with automation equipment and help streamline central fill workflow. A good example is adding visual or mechanical cart to blister alignment features to our packaging to enable an easy, quick and repeatable sealing process. So the combination of the blister the seal and the tray using automation robots all must work together seamlessly, which in turn enables automation efficiencies.

DT: You mentioned central fulfillment. Can you talk about the relationship you have with your central fill partners? Why are these relationships crucial to maintain, and how do they streamline your process?

SF: Sure. We make it our business to understand the automated workflow at central fill facilities. For example, we work closely with automation manufacturers, pharmacy chains, and centralized fulfillment centers to analyze every step of the blister pack sealing process when designing our flagship unit dose pack, the FlexRx™ One. Through this close collaboration, we designed a product that takes half the time to seal compared to other packs. Our pack ensures that there are no bottlenecks in the central fill, or the automated workflow and has a series of unique product features that make the sealing process quick, easy and repeatable.

DT: So in your opinion, what's the next big thing in blister packs? Is there anything exciting on the horizon?

SF: Well, currently, innovation in the areas of sustainability and automation is key. We are focusing on making our blister packs more sustainable and automation ready while ensuring the end product is user friendly. In the future, we expect to see further adoption of electronic adherence packaging with notification capabilities. This will help patients stay on track. These blister packs detect whether a specific medication compartment has been opened and are able to track adherence data, sometimes in real time. They can also send dose reminders to patients and alert caregivers and healthcare providers if doses haven't been accessed. With the sensing technology built into these packs, it's clear to patients and caregivers, whether a compartment has been opened at the wrong time or day and allows the pharmacist or the clinician to monitor medication programs for their patients. Overall, the use of technology more directly measures adherence provides pharmacists healthcare providers and the healthcare industry insights into dose by dose adherence. Connected adherence packaging also supports remote therapeutic monitoring and prompts intervention when it's needed, ultimately before adverse events can take place. So with the development of software to communicate with the hardware built into the blister pack, the possibilities of what the future holds are truly exciting.

DT: Awesome. Yeah, that all sounds great. Thank you Sead much for joining us today. We really appreciate you taking the time to come talk to us.

SF:Thank you guys for having me, really appreciate it.

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