Target Corp. is turning the old pill bottle design on its head — literally.
Target pharmacies this month rolled out a flattened bottle with easier-to-read labels and plastic rings that can be color-coded for each family member.
To make it all fit, Target flipped the bottle on its head, so it rests on the cap, making the label that wraps over the top visible from above. A card with information about side effects slips into a slot aimed at keeping it with the pills. Bottles for liquids get a receptacle for oral syringes.
Besides reducing the chance of errors with medications, Target is hoping the redesigned bottles will help it grab customers from other pharmacies.
Don Downing, an associate professor in the University of Washington School of Pharmacy and a former pharmacy owner who has consulted on pharmacy safety, said it was "about time" the traditional pill bottle got an update. He said Target's redesign is the first by a national pharmacy in some 40 years.
Most pill bottles have cramped labels that leave little room for important information, he said.
"We've all been concerned about font size and readibility, and I think this improves that dramatically," he said.
"I think they're looking for market share, and this is not a bad way to go because I think everyone wins on this one."
Target said in February that it would add 150 pharmacies to the 1,000 it already runs, part of a "ClearRx" strategy to increase its share of the business.
Even so, mass merchandisers such as Target and Wal-Mart account for just under 10 percent of prescription drug sales, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and it's not clear if other pharmacies will match Target's move.
Walgreen Co., one of the nation's largest drugstore chains, said it didn't have any similar plans. Spokesman Michael Polzin said Walgreen already offers large-print prescriptions on a separate sheet of paper and labels in 14 languages.
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Another large drugstore operator, CVS Corp., said it is revisiting its pill bottle labels in advance of expected changes to some state regulations next year.
"We are looking at all options, as I'm sure all the others in our industry are doing," said spokesman Mike DeAngelis.
Most pharmacies have tried to differentiate themselves by improving service times or making themselves more convenient by adding drive-throughs, said analyst Mark Miller at William Blair and Co., who covers Target as well as other retail pharmacies.
"There's relatively less activity in terms of the packaging that Target's doing," he said.
"Target excels in merchandising, and it's particularly evident in categories like apparel and home furnishings," Miller said. "It's tougher to do in food, and it's tougher yet to do in pharmacy."
Idea came from grad student
The idea came from visual arts graduate student Deborah Adler after her grandmother Helen took pills belonging to her grandfather, Herman. They took the same medication, with different dosages. Adler said she realized the traditional pill bottles could be improved. She discovered that its last big change had been the addition of safety caps in the 1970s.
She first took her design to the Food and Drug Administration with an eye toward adopting a national standard. But she said she discovered that, besides the cap, the FDA regulates little about the bottle. So she went to Target, figuring a retailer known for design prowess would be receptive.
"I thought they, versus CVS or Wal-Mart would be more willing to take a risk and be innovative," she said.
They were. Target bought the design from Adler and kept her on as a consultant to tweak it.
"Before that, we never really thought much about medicine bottles. Obviously no one else did either," said Minda Gralnek, Target's creative director.
Target customers generally get their introduction to the new bottles by choosing a color-coded ring. In homes where more than one person has a prescription, the rings are intended to help family members keep their pills straight.
Richard Stone, picking up a couple of prescriptions at a Target in northeast Minneapolis on Monday, said he was all for the revamped bottles. He and his wife have three or four medications each, and the new bottles help, he said.
"I've got the blue, she's got the red. It makes it easier to tell which is which," he said.
Pat Howell, another customer, said she chose green for her prescription — to match her lime green Volkswagen Beetle. "It's my favorite color," she said. Plus, "They're much easier to use, and it's a lot easier to read."
Doris Partyka of Minneapolis said she likes how there is more information on the bottle itself. Before, the information was on a sheet of paper. "I'd rather have it on the bottle than on a big piece of paper that you used to lose," she said.
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