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Packaging a medical device: smart packaging

Published: February 2023

William Innes
Will Innes, Design Consultant
Packaging is traditionally used to protect and promote its contents, providing an essential component of the product supply chain. Advanced digital technologies are now allowing organisations to reshape packaging capabilities, enhancing user experience and efficacy. In this article, I’m going to explore smart packaging and the opportunities it presents for medical devices and healthcare.

Understanding smart packaging

Smart packaging is a type of packaging that utilises advanced technologies to actively interact with the consumer and provide useful information about a product. It typically includes features such as QR codes, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, and sensor-based technologies. It can be categorised into two key areas, active packaging, and intelligent packaging.

Types of smart packaging

Active Packaging interacts with the product and environment, aiming to sustain quality, safety and extend shelf life.  Active packaging materials either release or absorb specific substances, ensuring optimal storage conditions are met. A common example of this technology is the desiccant, hygroscopic material that absorbs liquids, protecting the product from moisture and extending shelf life.

Intelligent Packaging uses sensor, tracking and ePaper technology to communicate with the patient and other relevant stakeholders. Information including dose adherence and storage temperature can be automatically transferred to healthcare professionals (HCPs), improving their ability to manage healthcare services. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near-field Communication (NFC) and mobile applications can be used to send useful information, such as instructional videos, to patients or clinical trial participants.

venn diagram illustrating the two types of smart packaging

Opportunities for smart packaging in medical devices and healthcare

In recent years, there have been several developments in smart packaging for medical devices. It not only provides protection, but also offers a range of additional features that can help to improve patient safety and satisfaction.

With a huge range of advantages to both suppliers and users, for example, patients, Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) and clinical study participants, the integration of the digital technology will continue to drive and expand across the medical device industry. It’s also helping to advance a range of areas within the industry including manufacturing, healthcare services and clinical trials.

User experience and efficacy

Smart packaging provides a range of additional features that can help to improve patient safety and satisfaction. Many smart packages are equipped with RFID tags, which can be used to track the location of the device during transport and storage. This helps to ensure that medical devices are not misplaced or mishandled.

Additionally, some smart packages contain bar codes or other identification methods, which can be used to identify the medical device quickly and accurately. This helps to reduce the risk of errors and miscommunication when it comes to handling and using the device.

Clinical trial compliance tracking:

In healthcare in general, smart packaging is transforming clinical trial compliance tracking. Clinical trials require a high level of accuracy however, they can often be fallible, with as little as between 43% and 78% participant compliance. Low compliance rates reduce the trial’s efficacy and potentially increase costs if new participants are required. Traditional methods of improving trial adherence include paper diaries and the direct observation of participants.

A new solution is allowing manufacturers to track participant compliance in clinical trials automatically. The innovative ’smart pill container’ uses NFC and mobile application technology to enable automatic tracking of clinical trial participation. When the patient pushes a tablet out of the blister pack, data is transferred to a mobile application on the participant’s phone. This data includes time of removal, dose, type of medication and specific location of removal. The mobile application can also be used to provide instructions and dose adherence reminders.

Prescription adherence:

Patient adherence to prescriptions is also a key determinant of treatment effectiveness. Poor adherence can limit the success of HCP services, in some cases leading to further health deterioration and premature deaths. It is estimated that as little as 50% of patients with a chronic disease abide by treatment instructions.

A smart dispensing cap has been engineered that integrates with a mobile application to ensure patients consume the right dosage. The reusable solution aims to improve prescription adherence while providing HCPs and clinical trials with useful patient data. The mobile application prompts the user to take their required dosage while the smart cap ejects the medication. Data including drug dispensing, missed doses, total pill count and storage temperature are collected and sent to the relevant HCP.

No more relabelling:

Labelling is a crucial part of the pharmaceutical supply chain, providing essential information such as expiration dates. Clinical trials frequently lead to updates on a drugs stability data, creating challenges in determining shelf life. When an update is required, each existing container must be relabeled to ensure the correct expiry date is displayed.

Smart labelling can enable packaging to be updated on demand, reducing cost, and automating batch documentation. A display connected to radio-frequency technology displays the expiry date and other mandated information. A new solution features a battery-less design which only requires power to update, enabling RFID devices to update the information displayed on demand without manually replacing the label.

Smart packaging can be used to create a unique and engaging experience for patients, not just for safety but to put them at ease and boost their confidence when using a medical device. It encourages the provision of unboxing experiences that can also provide a competitive advantage over other products on the market.

Product protection

By using advanced materials such as self-sealing films and temperature-sensitive labels, smart packaging offers more protection than traditional packaging methods like rigid plastics and cardboard. This helps to maintain the sterility, safety, and security of medical devices during transportation and storage.


Smart packaging can enhance traceability and sustainability by tracking products throughout their lifecycle to guarantee ethical and sustainable sourcing. This enables businesses to efficiently manage their supply chain and meet the highest product standards.

Read more about sustainability in Part 2 of our Packaging a Medical Device series.

As the world of packaging continues to evolve, the medical device industry is looking towards the future with smart solutions with digital technologies revolutionising the way products are packaged, shipped, and stored.

Here at Shore, we’re passionate about innovative, creative, environmentally friendly and cost-effective packaging, which not only keeps the product protected, but adds value and gives users a positive experience.

If you’re looking to integrate smart packaging technologies into your product strategy, we’d love to discuss this with you.

Contact us

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