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7 Steps to Respond to an FDA 483 Inspection Observation

7 steps fda 483 blog 7 Steps to Respond to an FDA 483 Inspection ObservationResponding in 15 days is one of 7 steps on how to respond to an FDA 483 inspection observation. Blog also includes advice from a former FDA investigator. 

When an FDA investigator has an inspection observation, the investigator issues an FDA 483. This is the FDA’s form number. If your company receives an FDA 483, how you respond to the FDA 483 is crucial to avoiding a Warning Letter. In the words of a former FDA investigator, “Many, many times I have seen an [Official Action Indicated (OAI)] classified inspection that had been recommended for a Warning Letter by the compliance branch be set aside based upon the response of the firm.”

The best way for your company to respond to an FDA 483 is by writing a cover letter, and then every observation needs to be addressed in the response as a separate CAPA–unless the root cause is identical for two observations. Make sure that your response includes the following seven steps below:

  1. respond within 15 business days (earlier is better)
  2. use your CAPA form and a cover letter–instead of a memo
  3. document the investigation that was conducted with a concisely stated root cause
  4. identify containment measures and corrections to address each specific observation by the FDA inspector
  5. identify corrective actions planned and the date(s) you expect to complete implementation
  6. Include documentation of containment, corrections and corrective actions that are completed at the time you submit the response
  7. follow-up with a memo confirming that all the corrective actions are complete and include all related documentation–including training for any new procedures or any new corrective actions that warranted training

Respond to the FDA 483 violation(s) in less than 15 business days

The FDA has always involuntarily required a medical device firm, or any firm under FDA jurisdiction that received an FDA 483, to respond in writing to the FDA 483 to the District Office within 15 business days. As of two years ago, (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2009-08-11/pdf/E9-19107.pdf) it became mandatory that a response from any FDA 483 must be received by the Agency within 15 business days, or an automatic Warning Letter is issued. You need to respond aggressively to FDA 483s with corrective actions, and submit your response early.

Use your CAPA forms instead of a memo

I have asked several former FDA investigators whether they would prefer to see firms submit responses in memo format, or by using their CAPA forms and a cover letter. Some told me that they prefer to see firms use their CAPA forms, while others don’t seem to have a preference. Nobody from the FDA has ever indicated a preference for a memo. I see no point in doubling your work and risking transcription errors. If you have an electronic system that does not have an output format that is easy-to-follow, go ahead and copy-and-paste the information from your electronic database to your memo. If the CAPA system output is easy to follow, just use a cover letter and copies of the forms.

Document the investigation and root cause

This is definitely my pet-peeve, but a one-sentence “root cause” is not enough for an FDA 483 response. Regardless of whether I am doing a mock-FDA inspection, an internal audit or a supplier audit–I expect you to document how you determined the root cause (http://robertpackard.wpengine.com/five-tools-for-conducting-root-cause-analysis/). If it’s trivial and obvious, then it must have been something important, or I would not have written a nonconformity. Therefore, you should be looking beyond the immediate scope of the FDA 483 to ensure that a similar problem cannot occur elsewhere. In the language of the FDA, this is a preventive action, because you are preventing occurrence with another process or product. Most ISO certification auditors are purists and they won’t accept this as a preventive action. You will have to show the purists something special–maybe from your data analysis.

Don’t forget containment and correction

For every 483 observation, including the subparts, you need to identify if immediate containment is necessary and how you can correct the problem. Whenever possible, you should attempt to implement the containment and corrections during your FDA inspection. In fact, it would be fantastic to give the FDA inspector a copy of the new CAPA you initiated during the audit. The new CAPA would identify containment and corrections that have been, or will be implemented–including any nonconformity(s) you initiated to quarantine product. You may still get an FDA 483 inspection observation, but you are likely to convert a possible Official Action Indicated (OAI) into a Voluntary Action Indicated (VAI). You can also modify the CAPA wording later to include a cross-reference to the FDA 483 and quote the exact wording the inspector uses.

Explain the corrective action plans and timelines

Clarity, brevity and realistic plans are critical in this section of your response. I prefer a table that looks like the example shown below.

7 steps 483 chart 7 Steps to Respond to an FDA 483 Inspection Observation

Show the FDA you have already taken action

Whenever possible, you want to show the FDA that you are taking action without delay. If you revised the SOP for MDRs and scheduled a group training for July 15, then you should provide the FDA a copy of the revised procedure and a copy of the agenda for your planned training session. The only caution is to only commit to actions you are certain you will implement. You can always do more, but it will be much harder to explain why you did not implement an action you submitted in your FDA 483 response.

Follow-up before the FDA does

The FDA’s compliance office will be looking for a response when an FDA 483 is issued, and they will review your response. The investigator will get a copy of the FDA 483 response and the investigator will comment on the response. The compliance office and the investigator enter their comments into a CDRH database, but the comments are only general, as to whether the response is adequate or inadequate and will require additional review.

If you do not hear back from the FDA, do not assume that the compliance office or the investigator were satisfied. You should also follow-up several months later (earlier if possible) with a letter that includes evidence of the completed corrective actions, and your verification of effectiveness. If the verification is compelling and received in less than six months of the inspection, you may convince the compliance office to hold off a planned Warning Letter.

If you are interested in root cause analysis and improving your CAPA process, please click on this link for another webinar recording: http://robertpackard.wpengine.com/5-ways-improve-capa-process/. A webinar recording titled “7 Steps to Respond to an FDA 483” is now available at the following link: http://robertpackard.wpengine.com/7-steps-respond-fda-483-inspection-observation-webinar/.

Posted in: FDA

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The FDA Inspection: 8 Action Items For the First 30 Minutes

fda30min 300x156 The FDA Inspection: 8 Action Items For the First 30 Minutes   The author presents an 8 item action plan and discussion for getting your FDA inspection off to a good start, beginning when FDA enters your facility. When an FDA inspector arrives at the reception desk of your facility, the last thing that you want is a Keystone Kops scenario with people running around in a panic and keeping the inspector waiting. This is your first opportunity to make a professional impression, and you never want to give an inspector the impression that you have something to hide. What happens during the first 30 minutes of arrival is critical. While medical device inspections are often announced several days in advance, there is no obligation for the Agency to do so. Therefore, your team needs training and a plan. This training should involve more than just reading the Quality System Inspection Technique (QSIT) manual (http://bit.ly/QSITManual), and conducting a mock FDA inspection. Last year, Rob Packard wrote a blog about “10 FDA Inspection Strategies that Don’t Work” (http://bit.ly/QSITmistakes), but the following activities need to be executed in the first 30 minutes to ensure your next inspection starts smoothly.

The FDA Inspection: 8 Immediate Actions to Take
1. Receptionist-Personnel Contacts  (Time Zero)

I once witnessed a receptionist sarcastically comment to an inspector that people must be thrilled when they walk in the door. That was not a great start to the inspection. Ensure that your receptionist and additional personnel who may sit at the desk are trained, understand what to do and know how to behave when an FDA inspector(s) arrives. This exercise should not cause panic. You need a simple work instruction located at the reception desk and a list of key staff members to contact immediately. The head of the Quality department, or Management Representative, is usually the first call.

2. Have Chain of Command in Place (Time = 1 minute)

DO NOT keep the inspector waiting in the lobby. Have a communication chain in place to ensure that other appropriate personnel are available in the event that the first point of contact cannot be reached. It is reasonable to ask the inspector to return at a later date ONLY if all individuals with the technical expertise to participate in the inspection are not on site, or are out of the country. The agent will make the decision whether to honor this request, but the expectation is that there is always someone with whom they can work with. Never make this request to put off the inevitable.

3. Ask To See Inspector Credentials (Time = 2 minutes)

Ask to see the inspector’s credentials, and ensure that you give them more than a cursory glance. This is important to avoid allowing an imposter posing as an Agency employee from gaining access to your business. While a rare occurrence, it has been known to happen. Some investigators are officers of the Public Health Service and may be in uniform. However, even these officers are not required to wear a uniform to all visits. Note:  Section 5.1.1.2 of the FDA Investigations Operations Manual (http://bit.ly/FDAIOM) instructs inspectors to provide their credential to top management, but copying of official credentials is not allowed.

4. Escort Inspector to Inspection Room (Time = 5 minutes)

Make sure that you can have the inspector escorted to a suitable room with the respective hosts within five minutes of arrival. This will involve ensuring that it is clearly understood by all administrative staff and key management that any other meeting may need to be curtailed, or moved immediately to another location in order to provide an appropriate space for the inspection. Providing substandard accommodations, such as a very cold or warm room is not a good strategy for shortening the inspection time, and is a ploy easily recognized by the Agency, though not appreciated. Note:  Rob Packard taught an audio seminar earlier this year where the use of inspection war rooms was covered in more detail—including a diagram with a proposed layout for the room (http://bit.ly/FDAInspectionSeminar).

5. Ready the FDA Inspection War Room (Time = 10 minutes)

Immediately after your inspection room is identified, you need to prepare your back room or “war room.” This room should be located near the inspection room, and set up at a moment’s notice with staff who can expertly execute their respective roles. You will need a mode of communication between the inspection and war rooms, runners to retrieve documents and records in the shortest time possible, as well as a technical individual to review these documents to ensure that they are appropriate and accurate before being provided to the inspector. This room should be ready within ten minutes of arrival.

6. Ensure You Have Emergency Supplies & Copies (Time = 15 minutes)

Your war room will need supplies. You should have a mobile cart equipped with inspection supplies ready and waiting at all times. Suggestions for the contents of your war room cart include: laptop, projector, staplers, staples, pens, blank folders, a label maker,and a stamp for “uncontrolled copies.” Your supplies need to make it to the war room within 15 minutes of arrival.

7. Ready the Frequently Requested Documents (Time = 25 minutes)

Don’t wait for the inspector to tell you which documents are invariably requested at the outset of any inspection. This includes, but is not limited to, the organizational chart, an index of all procedures, CAPA log, and your nonconformance logs for medical devices—all dating back to the last inspection. This doesn’t mean that you should offer these documents to the inspector. You want to prepare these before they are requested, so that they can be provided quickly, but you should keep the copies in the war room until the inspector requests each document and record. Copies of these records and documents should be stamped and ready within 25 minutes of arrival.

8. Relax (Time = 30 minutes)

It sounds as though this process is a race against time. It is not. No one engaging with the inspector should be running in and out of the room gasping for breath, or perspiring profusely from the effort. Keeping the inspector waiting can be perceived as a stall tactic, perhaps arousing suspicion that you are creating records “on the fly” in the war room (definitely not a strategy that I recommend), or that you are having difficulty locating the requested documents, and are not in control of your Quality Management System (QMS). The most important aspect is to manage your QMS, so that you are always ready for an inspection at a moment’s notice. If you prepare in advance, you shouldn’t need to do anything more than ask if the inspector would like coffee before the inspection begins.  

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10 FDA Inspection Strategies that DON’T Work

If you were just notified of an FDA inspection and you don’t think you are ready, using tricks to hide your problems is a huge mistake. I have heard a few recommendations over the years for “secrets” to hide those problems. In this post, I share my favorite “secrets”–and why they DON’T work.

Here are my top 10 ways to make an FDA inspection worse:

10. Stalling when the investigator makes a request – This just irritates investigators. At best, the investigator will use the waiting time to identify additional documents to sample, or to review the information you have provided more closely. At worst, the investigator will accuse the company of not cooperating with the inspection, and the investigator may return the following week with several more team members to help them. Whenever this occurred during a third-party audit that I conducted, I would move onto another area and interview someone. However, before I left the person that was slow to respond, I provided the person with a list of documents and records that I expected to be waiting for me upon my return. In extreme cases, I had to bluntly tell the management representative that I needed documentation more quickly. As an instructor, I teach auditors techniques for coping with this tactic.

9. Suggesting records for the investigator to sample – This is specifically forbidden in the case of third-party inspections and audits. The FDA has work instructions for identifying sample sizes, and samples are supposed be selected randomly. In reality, samples are rarely random, and usually the investigator is following a trail for a specific lot, part number, etc. When clients offered me samples, I tried to be polite and review the record they provided. However, I also would request several other records, or follow a trail as I have indicated above. Another approach I often use is to focus on high-risk items (i.e., – a risk-based approach to sampling). In general, you can expect the FDA investigators to sample more items than a registrar–and sample sizes are often statistically derived if the number of records is sufficiently large. When sample sizes are quite small, I recommend sampling 100% of the records since the previous inspection/audit. This is not always possible for third-party auditors, but internal auditors often can achieve this.

8. Outsourcing processes to subcontractorsThe FDA recently reinstated the requirement for contract manufacturers and contract sterilizers to be registered with the FDA by October 1, 2012. Therefore, hiding manufacturing problems from the FDA by outsourcing manufacturing is increasingly more difficult to do. In addition, the FDA focuses heavily on supplier controls and validation of outsourced processes. Therefore, an investigator will identify high-risk processes performed by subcontractors and request documentation of process validation by that supplier. If the company does not have the validation reports, this could quickly escalate to a 483, and possibly a visit to the subcontractor.

7. Trying to correct problems during the inspection – This is what I like to call the document creation department. At one company I worked for, we noticed a mistake across several of the procedures and made a change overnight between the first and second day of the audit. When the auditor asked for the procedures in the morning, he asked, “Is the ink dry yet?” The auditor then proceeded to request records that demonstrated compliance with the newly minted procedures. As you might have guessed, this resulted in several nonconformities. When clients attempt to correct problems found by an investigator, the investigator typically will respond with the following statement, “I applaud you for taking immediate action to contain and correct the problem. However, you still need to perform an investigation of root cause and develop a corrective action plan to prevent recurrence. To do this investigation properly may take several days.” I also teach auditors to memorize this phrase.

6. Writing a letter to file – When companies make minor design changes, one of the most common approaches is to “write a letter to file.” This phrase indicates that the design team is adding a memo to the Design History File (DHF) that justifies why design validation is not required, or why regulatory notification/approval is not required. The FDA used to publish a decision tree to help companies make these decisions. In fact, such a decision tree is still part of the Canadian significant change document. The FDA recently withdrew a draft document that eliminated many perceived opportunities to utilize the “letter to file” approach. However, the FDA will still issue a 483 to a company if the investigator can identify a change that required validation that was not done, or a 510(k) that was not submitted for a design change. In fact, the FDA specifically looks for these types of issues when an investigator is doing a “for cause” inspection after a recall or patient death.

5. Shut it down – Not running a production line that has problems is a favorite strategy for hiding problems. However, the FDA and auditors will simply be forced to spend more time sampling and reviewing records of the problematic production line. If you need to shut a line down, ensure everything is identified as nonconforming, and carefully segregate rejected product from good product. You should also use these problem lines as an opportunity to show off your investigation skills and your ability to initiate CAPAs. If you simply forgot to validate a piece of equipment, or do some maintenance, take your lumps and keep production running. If you are a contract manufacturer, never shut it down without notifying the customer. If you do not tell your customer, you will get a complaint related to on-time delivery and a 483.

4. Storing all records off-site – I first heard about this tactic during an auditor course I was co-teaching. During the course, we had many reasons why the company should be able to provide the records in a timely manner. However, I have experienced this first-hand as a third-party auditor. When this happens, I do three things: 1) increase my sampling of records that are available, 2) carefully review supplier controls and supplier evaluation of the storage facility (assuming it is outsourced), and 3) verify that the company has a systematic means for tracking the location (i.e., – pallet and box) for every record sent to storage. FDA investigators will simply move along to another record and follow-up on their earlier request with a second visit, or a request to send a copy of the document to them after the inspection.

3. Identifying information as confidential – A company can claim information is confidential and may not be shared with the public, but very little information is “confidential” with regard to the FDA or Notified Bodies. Therefore, this strategy almost never works. In fact, this will enrage most FDA investigators. In training courses, I train auditors to ask the auditee to redact confidential information. For example, a CAPA log may have confidential information in the descriptions, but the trend data on opening and closing dates is never confidential.

2. The FDA is not allowed to look at those records – Although this statement is technically true for internal audit reports and management reviews, the FDA always says that they can access this information through the CAPA system. What the FDA means is that there should always be evidence of CAPAs from internal audits and management reviews. If there is not, then this will quickly become a 483. Another person I met tells the story that when they agreed to share the management review records with the investigator, the inspector rarely issued a 483. When they refused to share the management review with the FDA, the inspection went quite badly from that point forth. I don’t agree with being vindictive, but it happens.

1. Show me where that is required – This is just silly. Investigators and auditors are trained on the regulations, while you are trained on your procedures. Spend your time and effort figuring out how your procedures meet the regulations in some way. Challenging the investigator excites the investigator. We all like a challenge–and we rarely lose. One auditee tried this approach with me in front of their CEO. This experience gave me the opportunity to show off that I had memorized the clause in question–and the corresponding guidance document sections. I think the CEO realized quickly that the management representative was not terribly qualified.

My final advice is to do your best to help the investigator do their job, and treat every 483 as “just an opportunity to improve.” Just ensure you submit a response in 14 day, or you will receive a Warning Letter too!

Posted in: FDA

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