DRUGS Grandma inspires redesign

Minimizing mistakes makes new bottle popular with some.
DALLAS -- Deborah Adler was trying to come up with a design project for her master's degree when she found out that her grandmother had accidentally taken her grandfather's medicine.
"I looked at the two bottles, and they were practically identical," said Adler, 29. "It made me aware of a design problem. I thought I could come up with a better system."
Grandma, by the way, is fine. But her misunderstanding has sparked what may be the biggest change in prescription packaging since the government mandated childproof safety caps.
Last month, Target pharmacies rolled out a new line of containers based on Adler's work. At a store that prides itself on cool-but-inexpensive design, the little red upside-down bottles fit right in. But here are the practical parts:
A different colored band just above the cap for each member of the family, to avoid mix-ups
A flat surface that displays drug and dosage information on the front, and warnings on the back, without having to follow the text around the cylinder
A sheet of further details that fits inside the label so you're less likely to lose it.
Practical matter
"When I saw this, I thought, 'What a good idea. You'd think somebody would have come up with this before,"' said Diane Ginsburg, a clinical associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin.
It's a little bulkier than the traditional container, Ginsburg said, "but it can help prevent errors, and I think that's a good trade-off."
Ginsburg said the new design makes more information clearer than before. She particularly likes the idea of assigning everyone in the family his or her own color.
"I could see if you had a frantic parent with three children taking different medicines, it would be easy to get the wrong one," she says. "Anything you can do to improve safety is a good thing."
Paula Thornton-Greear, a Target spokeswoman, said customers are happy with the change, but that it's too soon to tell whether it would lure business from other pharmacies.
Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, called Target's new design "interesting" and said the pharmacy chain is considering changes of its own.
One reason, he said, is that some states are preparing new regulations to require more detailed information on prescription bottles.
"We're very interested in making sure we're communicating with our customers as well as possible," DeAngelis said. "We're looking at different things, but there's nothing specific yet. We're sure all pharmacies are looking at the issue."
A spokeswoman for Walgreens said the chain has noticed what Target is doing, but she had no comment on whether any changes are in the works.
Adler said it took about a year for Target to bring her concept to the marketplace. After she finished the project -- "I got an A," she noted -- she thought about approaching the Food and Drug Administration in hopes it would adopt some of her changes as industry standards.
But she realized that government agencies, to put it in pharmaceutical terms, tend to be time-release rather than fast acting.
"I figured the fastest way into the bloodstream was through a pharmacy," she said.
Target was enthusiastic, although it did bring in another designer to refine the concept. "He came up with the upside-down idea," Adler says.
Still, Adler, who now works for the renowned Milton Glaser design firm in New York, said she achieved the goal she set with her grandparents in mind.
"I wanted to make it so when you open the medicine cabinet you know instantly what it is, when to take it and who it belongs to," she said. "The idea is to make people more confident in taking their medication. This way, my grandmother wouldn't have taken my grandfather's pills."

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