The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing in the packaging industry, as companies recognize the ways that it can help track important items such as medications, according to Scott Jost, vice president of innovation and design at Berlin Packaging.
Jost said he's seeing more packaging requirements now where the package has to offer some bi-directional communications, something that you would associate with IoT.
Compliance packaging: The first application of IoT in packaging
Probably the biggest application area for that right now is in compliance packaging, Jost said.
"It's a $10 billion a year loss that the healthcare industry associates with people not taking their medication in a timely fashion," Jost said. He pointed to medications where if you take that any other frequency or dose that what was prescribed for you, the medication will have little or no effectiveness. In some extreme cases, medications can be dangerous to you if you break from the prescribed dosage and frequency.
"We've all seen the little containers that folks have with the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and so forth," he said. "You put your pill or your vitamin supplement in the appropriate chamber, and that's where it gets even more complex, and people have multiple doses per day or doses that skip a day."
Jost says that as these containers grow and become more difficult to use that there have been proposals for IoT-type solutions to replace the containers. These solutions have an integrated container and closure that link up with a cloud-based application to which a patient and their doctor can input the information for reminder to take medication at a certain time. Many of these containers will have an indicator or light showing that it's time to take medication.
"That's probably going to be the first application of IoT from a packaging standpoint because that's where there's a confluence of both money being lost, lives being lost and a system that could bear the cost of doing so," Jost said. "It's hard to imagine the world where we would need that for shampoo. Let's face it, nobody's losing any more money than the cost of one dose of shampoo if I forget the shampoo tomorrow."
IoT smart packaging in healthcare environments
According to Jost, hospital pharmacies have a secure system in place (for example, Pyxis) that secures controlled substance upon entry into the hospital. Jost said, "Then the caregiver, the authorized caregiver in the hospital has to login, has to input the correct information for the patient and then submit to some level of security before the machine will automatically dispense the product that they're allowed to have."
There's also a checks and balances system of scanning the patient wristband to make sure the right patient is getting the right product.
"This is where we can get to the point where we're talking about packaging-level IoT; now we've got another level of traceability," Jost said. "The traceability would continue all the way to the point of the patient and to the point of opening the final primary component. We could see a system like that taking the form of replaceable component, because unlike the disposable packaging that you see in pharmacies today, this could be something that just goes back into the system and is reprogrammed to get it back to a blank slate so that you can reset it and redeploy into the hospital setting."
The traceability would continue all the way to the point of opening the system, which for which a trigger or alert can be set, he explained.
Typically, once the product is removed from Pyxis, at that point what happens with can be a little bit of an unknown.
"I can swipe in as an attending nurse, get the product out using the patient information and then walk to the right instead of the left and do something with it. Or if somebody could divert my attention and maybe there's a mismatch in terms of which patient gets which product," Jost said.
"If I have IoT traceability to the level of all the way to the patient room, I could keep that container locked until a wrist scan," Jost said. "There's an indication that I am standing next to the patient for which that product should be dispensed."
The internet of packages?
So many things are driving IoT now, so we can add smart packaging to the list. The use cases that Jost cited to me aren't going to go away and may even take on renewed importance as the healthcare industry seeks better technology solutions to serve its patients economically and effectively.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.