More Inhaler Design Fails: The Spiriva Counter

Why is it so hard to have actual users test an item before it goes to market? To make sure every aspect of that thing makes sense? It’s nothing new that there’s often little patient consultation in the actual design of devices and things that are made for us.

If you ask a patient about any device they are using—be it an inhaler, a lancing device for diabetes, or even an app—they will have definite preferences or ideas to make the product better. I understand that not everything can be incorporated into the end design, but the end design should still NOT have a dumb flaw in it.

The “dumb flaw” in the Spiriva Respimat? It’s the counter.

The Spiriva Respimat flaw that wasn’t a flaw

Due to the actual flaw in the Spiriva Respimat design, I was under the impression that there was a different flaw. Each month, I’d watch the counter arrow tick down from the green into the red, indicating there were between 0 and 14 puffs of medication left. When the counter hit zero, I’d throw the inhaler in the drawer. I mean, it says zero, and when my other inhaler counters say zero, it means empty.

The brochure with the Spiriva Respimat states that when the inhalers usable doses are done, the inhaler will lock. For 3 sample inhalers and 4 regular ones, I eyed the counter as it approached the red. When the little red arrow inched past the red area, past the 0, I threw them into a drawer, as I normally do to dispose of later.

I presumed the “lock” mechanism was a lie because the counter said it was zero or beyond zero, and I was still using it. This month, with better weather than in previous months, I decided to experiment. I kept using it past the point the counter read 0.

The actual Spiriva Respimat design flaw

It turns out, the placement of the color-coded counter mechanism is just off. It’s wrong. There are just no other words for it.

Spiriva Respimat

Pictured on the left is an inhaler that says 0. The arrow clearly points to the 0. To a normal person, this indicates EMPTY. The picture on the right is the point at which the device actually locks. It seems me and Boehringer-Ingelheim have different definitions of where 0 on a counter should be located.

Therefore, this is really an article on how not to waste perfectly good Spiriva, which I pay cash for. Due to the decent but questionable weather, I just paid for a new one, out of pocket. The tossed inhalers in my drawer could very well stretch me into May. Thank goodness it doesn’t expire until August 2021 and I can hold onto it.

No wasted doses and an experiment

I’m suddenly thankful that, due mostly to laziness, I just throw my empty inhalers in the drawer for a while before getting rid of them. It’s clearly a dumb design fail that the visual zero and the place at which the inhaler ceases to function (not a feature in most other inhalers, mind you) are not even the same place?

How many people, because of this, are - like me - not trusting the device locks when empty and wasting perfectly good medication? Beyond the unnecessarily exorbitant price of medication, big pharmaceutical companies question why patients don’t fall at their feet with gratefulness? This nonsense is exactly why.

I was curious to see how many extra puffs I could get out of these inhalers that said 0 before they locked. Out of the 4 of 5 tested inhalers thus far, the average is 2, with a range of 1-4 puffs. Perhaps it is all in the angle you hold your head (or inhaler).

At any rate, the visual counter? It still doesn’t line up!

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