BrandMatters: If It Talks Like a Label


By Robert C. Sprung, TippingSprung LLC

It’s not every day that pharmaceutical packagers can learn something from the wine industry. However, recent developments in talking-label technology may point the way to some interesting ways to solve some nagging problems in medical labeling.

First, let’s head to the wine cellar. Italian company Modulgraf has announced the release this fall of special talking labels. The labels, implanted with a chip, are interpreted via radio frequency by a small hand-held reader. Intended for high-end vintages, the talking labels will share recorded information about the wine, vintage, and serving tips. “The idea is to bring the oenologist to the table so that each wine can explain itself in the first person,” inventor Daniele Barontini was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Most interesting, perhaps, is one of the company’s claimed purposes of the technology: anticounterfeiting. Barontini claims that such labels would be extremely difficult to reproduce. Modulgraf’s core business is the design and production of wine labels, and the firm apparently has proprietary technologies to combat wine counterfeiting.

The use of talking labels as an anticounterfeiting method may well merit further investigation by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers.
In addition, recorded information might help solve the deepening problem of limited real estate on the multilingual global label. As products are designed for use around the world, companies are being forced, for regulatory and marketing reasons, to apply ever more languages to packaging. There simply isn’t enough room. The talking label may be more user-friendly for many patients, speaking to them in their local language in a way they can understand and without causing them to squint.

The talking label is starting to show progress in the medical field, spurred on by improvements in voice technologies and the availability of cheaper components. The ScripTalk system, first introduced in 2001, works similarly to Modulgraf’s wine labels. An RFID label is attached to a medical device or pharmaceutical package. Using a handheld reader, the patient can listen to the information stored on the microchip. The ScripTalk system has been used in a pilot at the Department of Veterans Affairs. After tests at retail pharmacies, the company says it is planning a nationwide launch of the system in 2006.

Another interesting product is dubbed Rex, “the talking prescription bottle.” It is produced by MedivoxRx Technologies, specialists in speech technology. Rex consists of individual pill bottles that contain a playback mechanism and require no special reader. According to the manufacturer, Rex is “fully automated through text-to-speech technology, allowing pharmacists to electronically record the label information to the pill bottle in a natural-sounding computer-generated voice using the pharmacy’s current software and data.”

Talking Rx takes a different approach. The portable and reusable device attaches to common prescription bottles. Through its built-in digital memo recorder, Talking Rx provides up to 60 seconds of recorded instructions. Label information must be individually recorded for each pill bottle.

Talking Products, a UK-based manufacturer, produces a battery-powered label that is affixed to a box and can store up to a minute of information. It is distributed in the UK by the Royal National Institute of the Blind.

A broader-based solution for a talking medical label, which might also include audible instructions for use, would combine some of the features listed above, along with some not yet integrated. The ideal solution would have to be implementable on a large scale, have significant storage capacity for many languages, allow for easy duplication of data onto thin labels, and mate with an ergonomic, compact reader with high fidelity. All this at a competitive price. Satisfying these needs seems challenging, but given the rapid advances in audio technology, hardly out of the question.


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