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CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?

Your CAPA procedure is the most important SOP. It forces you to investigate quality problems and take actions to prevent nonconformity.

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CAUTION: Read the story in the next few paragraphs before you implement any purchased procedure

During a recent internal audit, I noticed that the client was not meeting one of the requirements of their CAPA procedure. Specifically, the procedure indicated that all CAPA plans must be written within seven calendar days of initiating the CAPA. Despite this requirement in their procedure, the client was indicating that CAPA plans were due within 30 calendar days on their CAPA form.

This example is a minor nonconformity, but the reason why this client was not following their procedure is more interesting. The procedure was 100% compliant with FDA regulations, but the procedure did not match how the company performed the process. The procedure and the process MUST match.

This client purchased their CAPA procedure from another consultant, changed the title, and had everyone in the company “read and understand” the procedure for training.

Make sure your CAPA procedure is clear and concise

Procedures are often unclear because the author is more familiar with the process than the intended audience for the procedure. An author may abbreviate a step or skip it altogether. As an author, you should use an outline format and match your CAPA form exactly. There should be nothing extra in the procedure, and nothing left out. Medical Device Academy’s updated CAPA procedure is only six pages and the CAPA form is four pages.

Corrective and Preventive Action CAPA Procedure CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?
SYS-024 Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) Procedure, Form, and Log

SYS-024 – Medical Device Academy’s newly updated CAPA procedure is a 6-page procedure. Your purchase will also include our CAPA form (FRM-009), and our CAPA log (LST-005). The procedure is compliant with ISO 13485:2016, 21 CFR 820.100, SOR 98/282, and the EU MDR. You will also receive free updates in the future. We are currently distributing our 16th version of the procedure.

Price: $299.00

CAPA procedure writing recommendations

Procedures are often unclear because the author is an expert with more experience than the intended audience. An author may abbreviate a step or skip it altogether. As an author, you should use an outline format and match your CAPA form exactly. There should be nothing extra in the procedure, and nothing left out. Before writing your own CAPA procedure, consider following these 7 steps:

  1. Design your CAPA form first
  2. Identify which steps in your process are most important and specify how these steps will be monitored (i.e., risk-based approach)
  3. Write a procedure that follows your CAPA form and includes instructions for monitoring and measuring your CAPA process
  4. Conduct group CAPA training using the draft version of your form and procedure
  5. Make revisions to the form and procedure to clarify steps the trainees had difficulty with
  6. Ask the trainees to review the revised form and procedure
  7. Make final revisions and route the procedure for approval

The specific order of steps is essential to creating a CAPA procedure—or any procedure. Writing a procedure that matches the form used with that procedure helps people understand the tasks within a process. Throughout the rest of this article, we describe each of the nine steps of Medical Device Academy’s CAPA procedure (SYS-024). The actual CAPA form (FRM-009) sold with SYS-024 is more complex than 9 steps, but a more complex form is needed to make sure every sub-task is documented in your CAPA records.

Review nonconformities, including complaints, to determine if a CAPA is needed (Step 1)

If I am auditing a CAPA process, and almost all the CAPAs are resulting from auditor findings, then I know the client is not adequately reviewing other sources of potential quality issues. When I took my first CAPA training course, the image below was drawn on a flip chart by Kim Trautman. I have used this image in all of my CAPA training for other people since. I think this provides a good visual representation of the most common sources of new CAPAs. Although the number of CAPAs from each source will never be equal, you should review all of these data sources for quality issues periodically. 

Risk based CAPA Process Diagram 1024x465 CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?

CAPA procedure step 2 – Describe and reference the quality issue

The next step is to copy and paste your quality issue directly into the CAPA record and add a reference to the source. This step of the CAPA procedure is not a specific requirement of the ISO 13485 standard or the FDA regulations. However, describing and referencing quality issues in your CAPA record is a practical requirement. The person assigned to investigate the root cause of the quality issue needs to know what the source of the quality issue is, and when you are trying to close a complaint or audit report you will find it helpful to cross-reference the two records. For example, the CAPA might be related to the fifth nonconformity in your second internal audit report for 2022 (e.g. IA 220205).

Copy and Paste 300x146 CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?

Copy & Paste into your CAPA Record

Attribution: Icons were copied and pasted from Flaticon.com.

Step 3 – Perform a root cause analysis

Why can’t we fix our mistakes the first time? We are doomed to repeat mistakes when we fail to identify the root cause or causes. The person you assign to investigate a quality issue must be trained to perform a thorough root cause analysis. Successful root cause analysis depends upon four things:

  1. Courage to admit that your process is broken
  2. Learning more than one tool for analyzing problems
  3. Practicing the use of root cause analysis tools
  4. Sampling enough records (or testing enough product)

The common belief is that people fail to identify the root cause because they need root cause training (#2) or more practice (#3). However, most people fail because they stop sampling or testing too soon. I typically recommend that companies sample at least twice as many records as the suspected problem frequency. For example, if a complaint occurs 1% of the time, you should review 200 records before you can be sure you identified that root cause. If you are correct, you will only find the quality issue twice in the 200 records. However, a review of 200 records often reveals that the quality problem is more common than you originally estimated and there is more than one cause of device malfunction.

CAPA procedure step 4 – Do you need a new CAPA?

After you have successfully completed a root cause analysis, you now need to determine if a new CAPA is needed. If there is already a CAPA that is open for the same quality issue, you can use the existing CAPA as justification for not conducting corrective actions. In this case, you should include a cross-reference in the new CAPA record to the existing CAPA record. You should also document containment measures and corrections.

In both the existing CAPA record and your new CAPA record you should also be documenting your risk evaluation of your CAPA. In the latest update to our CAPA procedure, we changed the method of risk evaluation to match the MDSAP grading process for nonconformities. A copy of this section is provided in the image below.

CAPA Procedure Risk Evaluation Section 1024x231 CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?

In the CAPA procedure, we state that any risk score of 4 or 5 requires the implementation of a CAPA. If any of the escalation rules apply to the risk score, you should implement a CAPA regardless of the total risk score. This is our recommendation for a method of risk evaluation, but there is no standard telling you that you must do it this way. However, we believe this method of calculation is more likely to be consistent because it is based on the MDSAP grading guidelines.

If no escalation rules apply to your risk score, it may be possible to implement containment and corrections only. If your action plan includes only containment and corrections, we recommend that you monitor the quality issue as a process metric or quality objective to identify future occurrences. If you are evaluating a new CAPA that appears to have the same root cause as an existing CAPA, you may need to update the risk score of the existing CAPA to a higher number based on the escalation rules. Escalation may impact your corrective action plan, and it should certainly affect the prioritization of your existing CAPA.

Plan and document your corrective actions, including updating documentation (Step 5)

The biggest mistake you can make in this stage of the CAPA process is to spend too much time planning your corrective actions. “Take action and document it” is the essence of this step in the CAPA procedure. If you spend all of your time planning, then you will never take action. The CAPA plan can and should be edited. Therefore, if you know a procedure needs revision, start revising the procedure immediately. You can always add more corrective actions to your corrective action plan after you write the procedure, but you need to start writing. The second biggest mistake you can make during this stage is failing to document the actions you take. If you don’t document your actions, it’s a rumor, not a record.

Take Action and Document It 1024x121 CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?

Do your planned actions adversely affect regulatory compliance or safety and performance? (Step 6)

One of the required actions for a CAPA is to update your procedure(s) to reflect any process improvements to eliminate the root cause. When you update procedures, you need to make sure procedural changes do not create a regulatory compliance issue. We do this by inserting a cross-reference to each regulatory requirement in our procedures. The cross-reference is then color-coded and we add a symbol for people that are color blind. Symbols also facilitate electronic searches for regulatory requirements.

If corrective actions you implement involve design changes you will need to repeat design verification and design validation to make sure design changes do not impact safety and performance. If corrective actions change your manufacturing or service processes, you will need to repeat process validation to make sure that the process changes do not impact compliance with your design specifications. These recertification and revalidations steps are frequently forgotten, and they represent the biggest challenge for review and approval of design and process changes (described in the video below).

Perform an effectiveness check – Step 7 of your CAPA procedure

Most people verify CAPA effectiveness by verifying that all the actions planned were completed, but this is not a CAPA effectiveness check. An effectiveness check should use quantitative data from your investigation of the root cause as a benchmark. Then you should verify that the performance after corrective actions is implemented resulted in a decrease in the frequency of the quality problem, a decrease in the severity of the quality problem, or both. Ideally, a process re-validation was performed because validation protocols are required to include quantitative acceptance criteria for success.

Step 8 – Record your CAPA results

You are required to record each step of your CAPA procedure in a CAPA record (FRM-009). Therefore, we created a form that is organized in the order of the CAPA process, and then we wrote the CAPA procedure to match the organization of the form. The biggest mistake we see is that the CAPA owner does not update the record to include all of the details until the CAPA plan is completely implemented. This is a mistake. You should be documenting actions when they are taken. When you gather new information, and you need to update your root cause investigation or your corrective action plan, you are allowed to modify the record. You just need to have a system that allows you to keep track of revisions. This is often referred to as an “audit trail.” If you have a paper-based system, you will need to sign and date the document each time you make an addition. If you revise previous entries, you will need to revise and reprint the CAPA record, and then you will need to sign and date the revised and reprinted CAPA record. Ideally, you will have an electronic system with an audit trail, but software budgets are not infinite.

CAPA procedure step 9 – Close the CAPA record 

The last step in the CAPA procedure is to close your CAPA record. As with most quality system records, the person responsible for the process should review and approve each record for closure with a signature and date. If the person assigned to the CAPA left sections incomplete or made mistakes in completing the CAPA form, the person that made the mistake should be instructed to correct the mistake, identify that they made a correction, and identify the date of the correction. If a CAPA is not effective, then a cross-reference to the new CAPA that is opened should be documented in the older CAPA record.

CAPA Training

If you are interested in more training on CAPA, you might be interested in purchasing Medical Device Academy’s Risk-Based CAPA webinar. 99% of companies hold off on their training until a procedure is officially released as a controlled document. In my experience, however, these procedures seem to have a lot of revisions made immediately after the initial release. New users ask simple questions that identify sections of procedures that are unclear or were written out of sequence. Therefore, you should always conduct at least one training session with users prior to the final review and approval of a procedure. This will ensure that the final procedure is right the first time, and it will give those users some ownership of the new procedure.

After you train your initial group, and after you make the edits they recommended, ask those trainees to review and edit your changes to the procedure. Sometimes we don’t completely understand what someone is describing, and sometimes maybe only half-listening. Going back to those people to verify that you accurately interpreted their feedback is the most important step for ensuring that users accept your new procedure.

After you approve your new CAPA procedure, make sure everyone in your company is trained on the final version of the procedure. CAPA is a critical process (i.e., “the heart”) in your quality system. Everyone should understand it. You should also provide extra CAPA training for department managers, such as root cause analysis training because they will be responsible for implementing CAPAs assigned to their department. You can use this 7-step process for any procedure, but ensure you use it for the most important process of all—your corrective and preventive action process.Spaz helping with the CAPA video 1024x576 CAPA procedure, How do you improve quality and prevent nonconformity?
Thank you for reading to the end of this article. Spaz and I thank you for your support.

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What is a CAPA Board? and Do you need one?

A CAPA Board is a team responsible for making sure that all CAPAs are completed on time and the actions taken are effective.

Many of the medical device companies we work with have to open a CAPA for their CAPA process because they fail to implement all the actions that were planned, they fail to implement corrective actions as scheduled, or the actions implemented fail to be effective. When we investigate any process, we typically see one of five common root causes:

  1. top management is not committed to the CAPA process (we can’t fix this)
  2. procedures and/or forms are inadequate
  3. people responsible do not have sufficient training
  4. management oversight of the process is neglected
  5. there are not enough resources to do the work

Creating a CAPA Board can address four of these potential root causes, but the CAPA Board needs to understand how to work effectively.

Creating a CAPA Board shows a commitment to quality

Sometimes top management only pays lip service to quality. Top management’s actions demonstrate that quality is a cost-center, and they do not view quality as contributing to the revenue of the company. Instead, quality is viewed as a “necessary evil” like death and taxes. If this describes your company, sharpen your resume and find a new job. Quality is essential to selling medical devices and quality is the responsibility of everyone in the company. The Management Representative is responsible for “ensuring promotion and awareness” (see Clause 5.5.2c of ISO 13485) of regulatory and quality system requirements. This person should be training others on how to implement best practices in quality system management. One person or one department should never be expected to do most of the work related to the quality system.

A CAPA Board should be a cross-functional team of managers that help each other maintain an effective CAPA process. This means: 1) corrections are completed on time, 2) corrective and preventive actions are completed on time, and 3) each CAPA is effective. In order to do this consistently, the CAPA Board needs to work together as a team on the CAPA process. The CAPA Board doesn’t look for someone to blame. Instead, the CAPA Board rotates their responsibilities regularly, everyone is cross-trained on the roles within the CAPA Board, and the team passes tasks from one person or department that is overloaded to another person or department that has the resources to complete the tasks effectively and on time. A professional team must anticipate holes in task coverage, and someone on the team needs to communicate to the rest of the team which hole they are addressing. You can’t wait until the coverage gap is obvious and then have everyone jump into action. If you do this, your effectiveness will resemble a soccer team of 9-year-olds

Is your CAPA procedure the root cause?

In most companies, the problem is not the CAPA procedure. Clauses 8.5.2 and 8.5.3 of ISO 13485 are quite specific about each step of the CAPA process, and therefore it is easy to write a procedure that includes all of the required elements. The CAPA procedure is also one of the first procedures that auditors and inspectors review, and therefore any deficiencies in your procedure are usually addressed after one or two audits. If you feel that your CAPA procedure needs improvement, the above link explains how to write a better CAPA procedure. You might also consider asking everyone that is responsible for the CAPA process to provide suggestions on how to improve your procedure to streamline the process and clarify the instructions. The best approach is to have a small group (i.e. 3 to 5 people) of middle-level managers, from different departments, assigned to a CAPA Board with the responsibility of improving the CAPA process and procedure. If you have a large company, you might consider rotating people through the CAPA Board each quarter instead of having a larger group.

Does your CAPA Board have sufficient training?

Everyone can benefit from more training–even instructors will periodically engage in refresher training. Before someone is assigned to work on a CAPA, that person needs to be trained. Nobody should be assigned to a CAPA Board unless they are prepared to become an expert in the CAPA process. Some companies will only require people to sign a training record that states they read and understood the CAPA procedure. However, you must also demonstrate that your training was effective and the person is competent at the task assigned. Therefore, we recommend training people on CAPAs by training them with a CAPA training webinar and evaluating the effectiveness of the training by having each person complete a quiz. The use of a training webinar will ensure that each employee receives the same training, and the quiz will provide objective evidence that they understood the training (i.e. it was effective). If you have a CAPA Board, each person on the board should be involved in your CAPA training, and it is their responsibility to make sure people in their department have been trained effectively.

Competency is the hardest thing to demonstrate for any task. You can do this by verifying that the person has performed this task in one or more prior jobs (e.g. resume). If the person does not have evidence of working on CAPAs in their previous employment, then you will need someone that is already competent in the CAPA process to observe each person completing CAPAs and providing feedback. Once each person has demonstrated successful completion of multiple CAPAs, then the expert can attest to their competency in a training record with references to each of the successful CAPAs that were completed. If you are the person assigning a CAPA or individual tasks to people, do not assign the role of investigation, or writing the CAPA, to anyone that has not already demonstrated competency unless you are assessing them for competency. Everyone on the CAPA Board should either already be competent in the CAPA process or another expert on the CAPA Board should be in the process of training them to become a CAPA expert.

Average CAPA Aging Graph What is a CAPA Board? and Do you need one?

CAPA Boards are responsible for management oversight of the CAPA process

The most common method for management oversight of the CAPA process is to discuss the status of CAPAs at a Management Review. This information can be presented by the Management Representative, but assigning the presentation of CAPA status to another person on your CAPA Board will delegate some of the Management Review tasks and gives other people practice at presenting to a group. Some companies only conduct a Management Review once per year, but this makes it impossible to review CAPAs that were initiated immediately after a Management Review unless the CAPA takes more than a year to implement. Even if your company conducts quarterly Management Reviews, the review of CAPA status during a Management Review should focus on the most important issues rather than discuss every CAPA in detail. The impact on safety, the impact on product performance, and the economic impact of a specific CAPA are all criteria for deciding which CAPAs to discuss during a Management Review.

The CAPA Board needs a metric or metrics for monitoring the effectiveness of the CAPA process. The simplest metric is to monitor the average aging of CAPAs. If that average is steadily rising week after week, then new CAPAs are not being initiated, and existing CAPAs are not being closed. You can also measure the time to write a CAPA plan and the time to perform an investigation or monitor the on-time completion of tasks. The most important thing is for someone to take action when these metrics are not aligned with your quality objectives for the CAPA process. Taking action after 90 days of neglect is not good enough. You need to be monitoring the CAPA process weekly, and you need to take action proactively. Therefore, your CAPA Board needs to meet weekly and you need to show evidence in your CAPA records of what actions were taken by the CAPA Board.

Who should be assigned to the CAPA Board?

Top management does not need to be directly involved in the CAPA Board. Top management already reviews the status of CAPAs during Management Reviews. In a small company (i.e. < 20 people) you might have no choice but to have the same people that are assigned to your CAPA Board also be members of top management. As your company gets larger, you should assign middle-level managers and people that are new to management as members of the CAPA Board. Participating in the CAPA Board will teach those managers to work together as a team to achieve shared company goals and to persuade their peers to help them. The experience of working on a CAPA Board will also expose less experienced managers to other departments outside of their expertise. Ideally, participation in the CAPA Board will build friendships between peers that might not speak to one another. Each CAPA represents a team-building opportunity. The team needs to find a way to pool its resources to complete CAPAs on time and effectively. It is also important to rotate the assignment to the CAPA Board so that eventually all of your middle-level managers are trained in the CAPA process and each of them has been evaluated on their demonstration of team leadership and effectiveness in working with peers cooperatively. In large companies, it is common to assign one member of top management to the CAPA Board to show that top management is supportive of the CAPA process and to provide authorization for additional resources and funding for actions when needed. The top management representative should also be rotated to make sure that all of the top management remains competent in the CAPA process.

How does the CAPA Board manage the CAPA process?

The CAPA Board should never be blaming an individual or department for the lack of CAPA success. The CAPA Board should be anticipating when a CAPA is falling behind schedule or might not be as effective as it should be. Nobody on the team should be afraid to voice their opinion or to make a suggestion. Each member of the team has the responsibility of asking for help when they need it and asking for help as early as possible. The CAPA assignments should be shared between the team members, and one person should be responsible for chairing the meetings. If everyone is experienced in participating in CAPA Boards, then the role of the chairperson can be rotated each week. If one or more team members are inexperienced, the person on the CAPA Board assigned to training them should be teaching them how to participate in the meetings and prepare them for acting as chairperson.

Every CAPA Board meeting should have a planned agenda and meeting minutes. Every open CAPA should be discussed during the meeting, but the amount of time devoted to each CAPA should be adjusted for the risk of the CAPA failing to be completed on time or failing to be effective. If a CAPA is going smoothly, the discussion might only last seconds. Any discussion or actions planned that are specific to a CAPA should be documented in the individual CAPA record as well as the meeting minutes. This will ensure that the CAPA records are maintained as required by the ISO 13485 standard and the regulations.

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Are you a little curious, or fascinated by competitive warning letters?

Are you a little curious, or fascinated by competitive warning letters?

Did you know you can download competitor inspectional observations to learn which quality issues are likely to result in warning letters?

Not long ago the FDA published their Inspectional Observation Data Sets. They are Excel spreadsheets of the dreaded 483 inspection observations and warning letters that the FDA issues after performing inspection of manufacturers. There is a spreadsheet for each of the following topic areas, and we will take a look at the ‘Devices’ observations. A post-mortem data analysis or speculative data autopsy if you will… What can we learn when examining an FDA inspection observation?

  • Biologics
  • Drugs
  • Devices
  • Human Tissue for Transplantation
  • Radiological Health
  • Parts 1240 and 1250
  • Foods (includes Dietary Supplements)
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Bioresearch Monitoring
  • Special Requirements
  • Total number of inspections and 483s

These are nonconformities written by the FDA to the Code of Federal Regulations, so there won’t be any statistics for ISO 13485:2016 or Regulation (EU) 2017/745. There will be lots of findings under the ‘QSR’ or 21 CFR 820. The good news, unlike an ISO Standard, is that the Code of Federal Regulations is publicly available online for free. It isn’t a pay-to-play game and we can share the full text of the requirement without violating any copyright licensing agreements. 

The top 10 areas for inspection observations and warning letters are: 

  1. CAPA procedures
  2. Complaint procedures
  3. Medical Device Reporting
  4. Purchasing Controls
  5. Nonconforming Product
  6. Process Validation
  7. Quality Audits
  8. Documentation of CAPA actions and results
  9. Training
  10. Device Master Record

Corrective and preventive action is the most common reason for warning letters

The winning quality system requirement that resulted in the most 483 inspection observations and warning letters was for Corrective and Preventive Actions under 21 CFR 820.100(a). This finding is listed when a manufacturer fails to establish a CAPA procedure or the procedure is inadequate. This finding was cited 165 times. In addition, CAPA activities or their results were not documented or were not documented adequately a total of 32 times under 21 CFR 820.100(b). This gives us a grand total of 197 observations for the CAPA process.

Corrective and preventive actions are either fixing an identified problem and making sure it doesn’t happen again, or stopping a potential problem from happening in the first place. It is both the reactive and proactive response for quality issues and product non-conformance. The text of the requirement is:

§820.100 Corrective and preventive action.
(a) Each manufacturer shall establish and maintain procedures for implementing corrective and preventive action. The procedures shall include requirements for:
(1) Analyzing processes, work operations, concessions, quality audit reports, quality records, service records, complaints, returned product, and other sources of quality data to identify existing and potential causes of nonconforming product, or other quality problems. Appropriate statistical methodology shall be employed where necessary to detect recurring quality problems;
(2) Investigating the cause of nonconformities relating to product, processes, and the quality system;
(3) Identifying the action(s) needed to correct and prevent recurrence of nonconforming product and other quality problems;
(4) Verifying or validating the corrective and preventive action to ensure that such action is effective and does not adversely affect the finished device;
(5) Implementing and recording changes in methods and procedures needed to correct and prevent identified quality problems;
(6) Ensuring that information related to quality problems or nonconforming product is disseminated to those directly responsible for assuring the quality of such product or the prevention of such problems; and
(7) Submitting relevant information on identified quality problems, as well as corrective and preventive actions, for management review.
(b) All activities required under this section, and their results, shall be documented.

We can see that under section (a) the requirement is that there is an established and maintained process control with a numerical list of required inputs and outputs of that process. The process control is easy, use a procedure. You have to establish a procedure and you have to maintain it. That is one part of the first 165 observations.

The second part is that the procedure needs to be ‘adequate’. That means that bullets (1)-(7) need to be addressed within that procedure. For example number (2) is “Investigating the cause of nonconformities relating to product, processes, and the quality system;”. This means that the procedure should be explaining not only that your quality system will be doing that investigation, but who will be doing it and how they will be doing it. 

“The cause of nonconformities shall be investigated”, may not be an adequate process control. Yes, it addressed the need for a root cause evaluation, but does it do that adequately? 

“The RA/QA Manager will complete or assign a staff member to complete the root cause evaluation of Corrective Actions utilizing methods such as a ‘5-Why Analysis’ by filling in section 2. Of the CAPA report form.” This wording is much closer to what is needed in a procedure. It explains who is doing what, roughly how they might do it, where that activity gets documented and identifies the record that the activity produces.

Which brings us to the extra 32 findings where the activities and their results either weren’t documented or were done so poorly. This is why identifying the input (Root Cause Analysis) and the output (Section 2. of the CAPA report) are important. It allows you, the inspector or an auditor to trace from the procedure to the record that part of the process produces to demonstrate conformity. 

As the age old saying goes, “if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen”. That record should show that yes you did a root cause analysis (the activity) and what the conclusion of that analysis was (the results of that activity). These types of records are so vital to your quality system that there is an entire process dedicated to the control of records. I’ll give you a hint, it is Subpart-M of the QSR. 

This is also a great segway to show how the processes go hand in hand and CAPA is interrelated to Document Control, Record Control, and your Quality System Record. Your system processes will continually wrap back around to each other in this manner. For example, CAPAs are a required input into your Management Review process so if you don’t have a CAPA procedure you aren’t performing adequate management reviews. 

A note on other systems

If your quality system is also ISO 13485:2016 compliant, Corrective Actions and Preventive Actions are separate items under separate sub-clauses. Corrective Actions are in 8.5.2., and Preventive Actions are in 8.5.3. Meaning if you have a mature quality system that has never had a preventive action, then your CA might be fine, but the PA of that process may be inadequate.

An industry standard for CAPAs is applying a risk based approach, and we have an entire webinar dedicated to the subject! How to create a risk-based CAPA process

Complaints are the second most common reason for warning letters

%name Are you a little curious, or fascinated by competitive warning letters?

The silver medal goes to complaints. Much like CAPA the biggest issue is no, or inadequate complaint handling procedures. This specific finding was cited 139 times (overall complaint handling has more but this specific issue was the most cited). Not to sound like a broken record but again, complaint handling is a specific process that requires an ‘established and maintained procedure”.

As a procedure it has to exist, it has to be maintained, and each process has requirements for inputs and outputs that must be outlined. Complaint handling is a little bit different in the QSR in that there isn’t a ‘complaint’ sub-part. Complaints are under Sub-Part M- Records, specifically 21 CFR 820.198 Complaint Files. 

To compare, Complaints in accordance with ISO 13485:2016 are under Measurement Analysis and Improvement, specifically Sub-clause 8.2.2. Complaint Handling. It is sandwiched in between Feedback and Reporting to Regulatory Authorities. That had to have been done on purpose because those processes are inherently intertwined and their inputs and outputs directly feed into each other:

§820.198 Complaint files.
(a) Each manufacturer shall maintain complaint files. Each manufacturer shall establish and maintain procedures for receiving, reviewing, and evaluating complaints by a formally designated unit. Such procedures shall ensure that:
(1) All complaints are processed in a uniform and timely manner;
(2) Oral complaints are documented upon receipt; and
(3) Complaints are evaluated to determine whether the complaint represents an event which is required to be reported to FDA under part 803 of this chapter, Medical Device Reporting.

This sub-section of ‘Records’ may be less intuitive than what we saw under CA/PA. We can see that we have to maintain complaint files. We also need a procedure that covers receipt, review, and evaluation of complaints. Then we have to name a formally designated complaint handling unit to do all of that. 

Further we need to make sure that complaints are handled uniformly and efficiently. It should be a cookie cutter process with a known timeline. Every complaint goes through the same review and evaluation within a specific time period. If it takes six months to review a complaint, that definitely is not a ‘timely manner’. 

Not every complaint will be sent to you via certified mail with ‘Complaint’ written across the top in big BOLD letters. Sometimes people will simply tell you about a complaint they have verbally and your process needs to define how it is addressing these verbal communications. Otherwise your FDA inspection observation will be written, and you run the risk of receiving warning letters.

This of course begs the question, what is a complaint? How will I know if I received one? Fortunately 21 CFR 820.3 provides us with definitions, one of them being what exactly a complaint is “(b) Complaint means any written, electronic, or oral communication that alleges deficiencies related to the identity, quality, durability, reliability, safety, effectiveness, or performance of a device after it is released for distribution.”.

There is no quiz at the end of this but I would caution you that this will probably be on the test. Anytime you ask a question like that and the regulation provides a definition for it, then it’s a good idea to include that definition within your procedure. This is a way to make sure that there is uniformity in the understanding of a procedure. If you miss a complaint because you didn’t realize that it was a complaint then your process is not effective. Eventually an auditor will pick up on the deficiencies in the process, document a finding and you will be doing a CAPA to fix it.   

Every complaint needs to be reviewed, but not every complaint needs to be investigated. This was a much less cited issue (5). You are allowed to decide that an investigation isn’t needed. However, if you do then you must keep a record of why you decided that and name the person responsible for that decision. 

That isn’t carte’ blanche to just write off investigations whenever you want. There are some things that require an investigation and there is no accepted rationale for not performing one. An example is when there is a possible failure of a device, it’s labeling or packaging to meet any of their specifications. Those need to be investigated without exception. What your system is allowed to do though is if you have already done an investigation and you received related similar complaints, there is no need to repeat the same investigation for every complaint. 

An important concept of complaint handling is that you should be triaging your complaints as you receive them. There are certain types of complaints that must be reported to the FDA. More information is actually found under 21 CFR 803, not the 820 that we have been examining. These special complaints need to be identifiably separate from your normal run of the mill complaints. These complaints specifically need a determination of; 

  • Whether the device failed to meet specifications;
  • Whether the device was being used for treatment or diagnosis; and
  • The relationship, if any, of the device to the reported incident or adverse event.

Outside of those special reportable complaints, all investigations have certain required outputs. By addressing every complaint in a uniform repeatable manner, this can be boiled down to a form. In fact creating a specific complaint form makes sure that all of the required information has been documented. Each record of an investigation by your formally designated complaint handling unit has to be include;

  • The name of the device;
  • The date the complaint was received;
  • Any unique device identifier (UDI) or universal product code (UPC), and any other device identification(s) and control number(s) used;
  • The name, address, and phone number of the complainant;
  • The nature and details of the complaint;
  • The dates and results of the investigation;
  • Any corrective action taken; and
  • Any reply to the complainant.

Some companies and corporations sprawl across the globe and have many sites all over the place. Not every manufacturer is limited to containing all of their operations within a single building. There are times where the formally designated complaint handling unit may be somewhere other than where the manufacturing is taking place. That is acceptable as long as communication between the two is reasonably acceptable. The manufacturer needs access to the records of the complaint investigations performed. Just as everything must be documented, all of that documentation must be producible as well. If not, your inspector will produce FDA 483 inpsection observations and warning letters.  

If the complaint handling unit is outside of the United States the records have to be accessible in the United states from either the place where the manufacturers records are normally kept or at the initial distributor. 

Complaint Handling and vigilance reporting are topics that we often find stuck together like velcro. We find them so interelated that we have a combined Complaint Handling and Vigilance Reporting Webinar.

Medical Device Reporting is the third most common reason for warning letters

The bronze medal recipient shows a drop in sheer numbers of FDA inspection observations. A total of 68 were written for the fiscal year of 2020, and these findings have a high likelihood of resulting in warning letters because these incidents may involve serious injuries and death. We are slowing down, but this is still a topic that gets an FDA inspection observation almost every week.

But again part of the issue is no, or bad procedures to control this process. Not to be confused with the (EU) MDR since as an industry we love acronyms so much, Medical Device Reporting is referenced within the Quality System Requirements of 21 CFR 820. We took a peek above in Complaint Handling. What makes this unique is that MDR actually lives in 21 CFR 803 Medical Device Reporting. What makes it even more special is that Part 803 is further broken down into sub-parts. 

We will take a look at Sub-part E which is the reporting requirements for manufacturers. Medical Device Reporting is a process and as such needs a procedure to control it and that procedure must be maintained. 

Some key points to capture is that there are reporting timelines that are measured in calendar days from when you become aware of information that reasonably suggests that one of your devices;

(1) May have caused or contributed to a death or serious injury or
(2) Has malfunctioned and this device or a similar device that you market would be likely to cause or contribute to a death or serious injury, if the malfunction were to recur
.”

There are some crucial takeaways. First, the clock starts ticking down calendar days, not work days, and holidays count. You can’t hold off reporting that your device killed someone because it’s around the holidays and over a few weekends. 

Second, is that reporting timelines vary, generally between 5 and 30 calendar days. That means it is important to know the specific timeline for the type of report you are making and what the authority having jurisdiction requires for a timeline. The FDA may differ from Health Canada which in turn may differ from the EU, etc. 

Third is that the bar to meet is what would be ‘reasonably known’, and that is somewhat of an ambiguous requirement open to interpretation.

They help clarify this with,

(i) Any information that you can obtain by contacting a user facility, importer, or other initial reporter;
(ii) Any information in your possession; or
(iii) Any information that you can obtain by analysis, testing, or other evaluation of the device.

The first two are usually not an issue, but the one that tends to get less attention is deeper analysis, testing or evaluation of the device. Due diligence is required here to make sure that you actually do know the information that should be ‘reasonably known’ to you. 

The burden of investigation and root cause determination is placed squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers and that is a process that can take some time. What happens when the reporting timely is fast approaching but your investigation won’t be finished before the clock runs out? The short answer is to report it anyway.

The longer answer is to report what information you do have with an explanation of why the report doesn’t have all of the required information. Then explain what you did to try to get all of the information, and file a supplemental or follow-up report later to fill in the gaps. Only having a partial report ready is not an excuse to miss the reporting deadline. It is however, the perfect excuse to get an FDA inpsection observation or warning letters.

Posted in: CAPA, FDA

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NSE letter: A CAPA plan for your 510k process

Cry, complain, call the reviewer…you might feel a little better, but you received an NSE letter, and tomorrow you still can’t sell your device.

NSE Letter NSE letter: A CAPA plan for your 510k process

Instead, try approaching an NSE letter like a CAPA investigation. What is the issue? The FDA determined that your device is not substantially equivalent to the predicate you selected. What is the root cause? There are four (4) possible root causes.

NSE Letter Cause #1: You failed to verify that the predicate is a legally marketed device.

If your predicate device is not legally marketed, you need to select a new predicate and resubmit. However, it is doubtful that your device would pass the refusal to accept the (RTA) screening process if the predicate was not legally marketed. If your predicate was not registered and listed with the FDA (check using this link), then you should have submitted a pre-sub request to determine if the agency has any problem with using the device you chose as a predicate. This is an essential question if the manufacturer is no longer in business, and the product is no longer for sale.

NSE Letter Cause #2: You failed to evaluate the substantial equivalence of your device’s intended use with the predicate.

The intended use of your predicate device is documented for every potential predicate since February 1992 on FDA Form 3881–which you can download along with the 510k clearance letter for the predicate. There is also an intended use documented for every device category in the applicable regulation for that device. This intended use is more generic than FDA Form 3881, but both are applicable. The FDA Form 3881 you submit for your device must be equivalent. I recommend a point-by-point comparison with regard to the following elements: 1) OTC vs. prescription use, 2) user, 3) patient population, 4) illness or medical condition, 5) duration of use, 6) environment of use and 7) target part of the body. Any difference can raise new issues of risk and may result in an NSE decision. However, the FDA typically will work with the company to modify the wording of FDA Form 3881 to ensure the intended use is equivalent or to make sure you provide clinical evidence to address the differences. In my pre-submission requests, I include a comparison document for the intended use to ensure that the FDA is aware of any differences in the intended use.

Cause #3: You failed to convince the FDA that technological differences do not raise different questions of safety and effectiveness.

Unless your device is identical in every way to the predicate device, you will have to persuade the FDA that differences do not raise questions of safety and effectiveness. At the beginning of the 510(k) process, it is helpful to document technological differences systematically. Specifically, this should include: 1) materials, 2) design, 3) energy source, and 4) other features. For each difference, you must justify why the difference does not raise different issues, or you must provide data to prove it. It is also possible that you were not aware of questions of safety and performance raised by technological differences. To avoid this problem, you can submit a detailed device description and draft labeling to the FDA in a pre-sub meeting request. If you ask questions about differences in a pre-sub meeting, you can avoid an NSE letter.

Cause #4: You failed to provide data demonstrating equivalence.

For each difference, you should determine an objective method for demonstrating that the difference is equivalent in safety and performance to the predicate. Your test method can be proposed to the FDA in a pre-sub request before testing. The FDA sees more than 3,000 companies propose testing methods to demonstrate equivalence each year. They have more experience than you do. Ask them in a pre-sub before you test anything. There may be a better test method, or you might need to adjust your test method. Sometimes results are unclear, but there might be another test you can perform to demonstrate equivalence, and then you can resubmit your 510k. Possibly you were unaware of the need to perform a test, and you were unable to complete a test within the 180 days the FDA allowed for submitting additional information. The good news is you now have all the time you need.

What is similar between all four causes of the NSE letter?

In all four root causes identified above, you could benefit greatly from the pre-sub meeting. Now you have an NSE letter, and you know which of the four reasons why your submission did not result in 510(k) clearance. However, the correction to your NSE letter may not be clear. Therefore, you should consider requesting a pre-sub meeting as quickly as you can. Most companies choose not to submit a pre-sub meeting request because they don’t want to wait 60-75 days. However, sometimes pre-sub meetings are scheduled sooner. In addition, 60-75 days is not as costly as receiving a second NSE letter.

Prevent a future NSE letter by requesting a pre-sub meeting

Regardless of your corrections for the current NSE letter, you should prevent future occurrences by planning to submit a pre-sub meeting request for every submission. I try to help clients gather all the information they need without a pre-sub meeting, but each new 510k reminds me why a pre-sub meeting is so valuable. You always learn something that helps you with the preparation of your 510k.

Help with Pre-sub meeting requests

The FDA published a guidance document for pre-sub meeting requests. If you need additional help, there is a webinar on this topic.

Posted in: 510(k), CAPA, Design Control

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Minimum Data Points Constituting a Trend Is 3?

This article explains why three is never the right answer, and this article explains why asking how many minimum data points are needed to identify a trend is the wrong question.

Minimum Data Points for CAPA Minimum Data Points Constituting a Trend Is 3?

Recently a client sent me an email asking the same question about data analysis in two different ways. The first question asked, “How many of the same situation need to occur before it is considered a trend?” The second question asked, “How many nonconformities can occur before a CAPA should be opened?” This question can be asked a hundred different ways, but it’s the wrong question.

Minimum Data Points for Variable Data

In the graph above we have variable data rather than attribute data. When you have variable data, the answer regarding the number of minimum data points is always a quantitative answer that is objective rather than subjective. Typically the new data point lies outside of the upper or lower specification for the element being measured (i.e., >6.6 or <6.1 in the graph above). Even if the new data point remains within specifications, a CAPA may still be issued if the new data indicates that there has been a shift in the normal distribution of data.

In our graph above, on March 13 the newest data point was 6.37. Although this value is within specifications, in fact close to the center of the range, this value represented a shift in the trend that exceeded the normal distribution of data observed for the previous 12 days of the month.  The mean for the first 12 days was 6.54 and the standard deviation was 0.0250. Many people establish alert limits that equal mean +/- 2x standard deviation (i.e., 6.59 and 6.49) and the action limit is often set equal to the mean +/- 3x standard deviation (i.e., 6.62 and 6.47). Therefore, a value of 6.37 is well outside the normal distribution for the first 12 days of the month–but not outside specifications.

The shift in data values for this graph indicates a shift, but the process was capable of remaining within specifications before the shift and process capability actually appears to be slightly better after the shift. In this case, there is no need for a CAPA but if the reason for the shift is unknown an investigation would be recommended. However, if different lower specification were chosen (e.g., 6.4) then the new data point on March 13 would be outside the specification and product would be identified as nonconforming.

Nonconforming results should always trigger in an investigation?

If the process was validated and the mean +/- 2x standard deviations remains within the specifications, then greater than 95% of the product should be conforming. If the the mean +/- 3x standard deviations remains within the specifications, then greater than 99.5% of the product should be conforming. Therefore, based upon the data from the first 12 days of March any data points that are lower than 6.47 should be very rare unless there is a process shift.

An investigation of the data point on March 13 should result in a CAPA unless the outlying data can be explained and a new trend with a lower mean is expected. If the new data point cannot be explained, then only one new data point is needed and the data does not even need to be nonconforming. If no actions are taken the drop in the measured value could continue and nonconforming product could result, while any action taken on March 13 is a preventive action.

Minimum Data Points for Attribute Data

In the case of the first question, the negative customer situation that is reported to a company may be an attribute rather than variable data. For example, “customer unsubscribed” after an email blast went out is a negative customer situation. If you know the % of customers that unsubscribed when email blasts go out, then you have variable data. If you only know that one person unsubscribed, then you only have an attribute (i.e., unsubscribed instead of continued subscription). The first time an unsubscription occurs, you should do an investigation to see if there is an issue other than frequent email blasts that exceed a customer’s expectations in frequency. The action taken could be to establish an alert and action limit for unsubscribed emails based upon industry norms or the % calculated from the first event.

What are the right questions?

Instead of asking how many minimum data points are needed to initiate a CAPA, we should make sure we are measuring the right variables. The % of unsubscribed is a valuable variable data point, but knowing that one person unsubscribed without knowing how many people received that email blast is not nearly as helpful in making future decisions. Another question is to ask, “Why did the person unsubscribe?” If the reason is unknown, you may want to contact the former subscriber and ask them–but probably not by email. If you have a theory why people are unsubscribing you can also perform an experiment to test your hypothesis. If you think the cause is that emails are being sent too frequently, then you can split your list and send the same emails to two halves of a list at different frequencies. If you are correct, then the list that has more frequent emails should also have a higher % of unsubscribers. This type of design of experiment (DOE) is one of the root cause investigation tools I recommend in my Risk-Based CAPA webinar.

Recommendations for Trend Analysis

Whenever you establish a new metric or quality objective, you should also establish a limit for when you intend to investigate and when you intend to take preventive or corrective actions. If you simply start measuring a variable or attribute, you may have difficulty recommending actions to management during your next management review and explaining why actions were not taken during an FDA inspection or an audit.

Additional Related Reading
If you are interested in reading more about how this might be applied to inspection results, please read my blog titled, “21 CFR 820.80: 3 Ways to Record Inspection Results.”

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Case Study Part 2: Packaging CAPA Preventive Action and Corrective Action

This article explains details of implementing a CAPA preventive action and corrective action for packaging issues. Specifically, containment measures, corrections, corrective actions, and preventive actions to address the root cause identified in part 1 of this case study.

Screenshot 2015 11 08 at 12.34.46 PM 1024x504 Case Study Part 2: Packaging CAPA Preventive Action and Corrective Action

Comparing Incoming Inspection Results as a CAPA Preventive Action

CAPA Step 1: Containment of Product with Defective Packaging

When you learn of a packaging complaint related to a specific lot, you also need to determine if another product associated with the lot is safe to ship to customers. You should not attempt a correction and removal of the product unless you have a reasonably high level of confidence that there is a packaging issue with the lot or a portion of a lot, but you might consider placing product from the same lot in your inventory on hold until your investigation is completed. If you confirm that you have an issue with a specific lot, lots, or portion of a lot, then you should initiate correction and removal of product to prevent potentially, a non-sterile product from being used. This type of problem could result in a Class 1 recall (i.e., the most severe of the three categories). Therefore, you need to act quickly and according to established procedures for corrections and removals.

CAPA Step 2: Correction(s) of Defective Packaging

If you find a problem, there is little you can do to fix the existing defective packaging other than to repackage the product. If the product has only been sterilized once, and you have revalidated the product for resterilization, then you can repackage, relabel and resterilize. To ensure traceability to the lot that has been reworked, you may need to revise the labeling (e.g., add an “R” to the lot number). If you have not revalidated the resterilization of the product, you may want to use this lot for validation of resterilization instead of throwing it out. However, sometimes your best option is to scrap the product.

Additional corrections may involve correcting the calibration of a testing device or performing a repair to sealing equipment. You might modify a specification on a drawing. You might correct a work instruction that did not have the correct, validated sealing parameters. All of these could be corrections.

CAPA Step 4: Corrective Action(s) for Packaging Issues

Investigation of root cause (CAPA Step 3) occurs in parallel with containment (CAPA Step 1) and correction (CAPA Step 2). Corrective actions (CAPA Step 4) prevent the packaging issues from recurring, and they occur after the first three steps because you can only implement corrective actions once you understand the root cause of the quality issue. The best tool for evaluating your current process controls and evaluating the implementation of new corrective actions is a process risk control plan. In order to do this, you need a process flow diagram and a process risk analysis. Each step of the process, from the raw material fabrication of film to the released product, needs to have potential hazards identified, risks evaluated, and risk controls implemented. You should use your process validation to verify the effectiveness of process risk controls quantitatively. If the process capability is greater than 95% for each parameter, and you have addressed every possible source of problems, then you probably won’t gain much from additional risk controls. However, many companies reduce their sampling or rely on certificates of conformity to ensure that the process is controlled adequately.

CAPA Step 5: CAPA Preventive Action for Packaging Issues

You already had a packaging issue with one lot of products, but you could have another issue with a different product or lot for the same reason or a different reason. If the product is the same, and the reason is the same, then the actions taken are corrective actions. If you take action to prevent the occurrence of this issue with a different product, or you prevent other potential causes of packaging issues by initiating more robust monitoring and process controls, then your actions are preventive. Often you will want to implement both types of actions.

In the box plot example provided in this article, Lot D was detected at incoming inspection as having peel test results that were outside the alert limit but acceptable when compared to the specification limit for peel testing. The alert limit was established during validation of the pouches and comparison of lots A, B, C, and D, demonstrate that Lot D is slightly lower in peel strength. The manufacturer may choose to use the lot, but the sampling plan for in-process peel testing may be altered, or the manufacturer may choose to place the new lot in quarantine while an investigation is performed. This is a CAPA preventive action.

Below I have listed six additional potential CAPA preventive actions to consider for your packaging process:

  1. Perform peel testing and/or bubble leak testing of packaging raw materials as part of the receiving inspection process and perform data analysis of the incoming inspection samples to determine if lower or higher alert and action limits should be established for the new lot of raw materials. The limits should be based upon the manufacturer’s seals as well as your seal.
  2. Retain remnants of in-process peel testing, include the remnants with the sterilization load, and then store the remnants for real-time aging.
  3. Consider implementing visual inspection tools that are able to detect sealing imperfections non-destructively.
  4. Increase the number of samples you test (e.g., 1 to 3 or 3 to 5) for each lot of product sealed to increase your confidence that the seals will be within specifications.
  5. Perform statistical analysis of in-process data for seal peel strength in order to identify potential lots with packaging issues prior to release.
  6. Evaluate the performance of the packaging at temperature and humidity extremes that may be higher or lower than the conservative estimates for ambient conditions (e.g., 30C vs. 25C).

Additional Resources

In addition to the previous article that was part 1 of this case study, I have posted ten other blogs specifically on the topic of CAPA. There is also a CAPA procedure you can download from this website.

Risk-based CAPA Webinar

If you are interested in learning more about a risk-based approach to CAPAs, then please click here.

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Effective Management Solutions for 10 CAPA Program Blunders

The author provides effective management solutions for ten real-life CAPA program blunders., (i.e., procedures, root cause analysis, closing CAPAs, etc.)

%name Effective Management Solutions for 10 CAPA Program Blunders

Effective Management Solutions for 10 CAPA Program Blunders

I am always looking for new and creative ways to help people understand the importance of maintaining an effective Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) program. If my last dozen CAPA blogs were not convincing enough, maybe this list of suggestions will help.

  • 1. If someone doesn’t follow procedures, just fire them. The employee in question is obviously the root cause. Management cannot be held responsible for the actions of employees. Once, I read a corrective action plan that indicated termination was the correction for a missing training record. The QA Manager clarified this statement by saying that the employee resigned for personal reasons, and there was no opportunity to train the employee. The CAPA record also indicated that 100% of the training records for manufacturing employees were reviewed for completion. There were a few records identified as incomplete, and those employees were trained—not terminated. The company also implemented a tracking tool to monitor training records. As a general rule, termination is not an acceptable corrective action or correction.
  • 2. If CAPAs are open longer than your procedure allows, close the existing CAPAs the day before the CAPAs become overdue, and open new CAPAs. CAPAs are not “closed” until all nonconformities have been corrected, corrective and preventive actions are implemented, and effectiveness checks are done. If the corrective and preventive actions were not completely effective, some companies chose to reopen the record and expand the plan of corrective and/or preventive actions. Other companies chose to open a new CAPA record, and reference the new record in the effectiveness check section of the previous CAPA record. Either approach works, but you cannot close an incomplete record and remain compliant.
  • 3. To verify the effectiveness of corrective actions, just include a copy of your document change order. Documenting changes to procedures meets part of the CAPA requirements, but this verifies implementation—not effectiveness. To verify the efficacy, you need to confirm that a nonconformity, or a potential nonconformity, will not recur. Low-frequency defects are often hard to demonstrate directly. The best approach is to validate the process parameters to demonstrate quantitatively that the process capability has improved. For manual processes, you may need to test the new process to verify that the error will not occur or will be detected.
  • 4. If you can’t finish tasks on schedule, revise your plan. If you still can’t finish tasks on schedule, revise your plan again—and again. It’s appropriate to revise your plan if you discover additional causes that your initial investigation missed. You should not, however, be revising target completion dates—except in rare cases. You also should not need to revise your plan multiple times.
  • 5. When you’re unsure why a problem occurred, identify the root cause as an unclear procedure, and make a minor change to the appropriate SOP. Making changes to procedures is quick and easy to verify. Unfortunately, this approach is seldom effective in preventing recurrence. You need to develop new process controls to make errors impossible. Eliminate variation in raw materials, eliminate subjectivity in inspections, and provide tools and fixtures to make manual processes capable of more consistent results. After you have reduced all three of these sources for process defects, then you are ready to revise your procedures and retrain employees.
  • 6. Whenever an employee fails to follow a procedure, just change the procedure to require another person to verify that they did it right. If one employee fails to follow procedures 100% of the time, a second person manually inspecting will also not be 100% effective. Another method of process control should be used to ensure that your process results in a conforming product. Adding more people provides a false sense of confidence. The use of objective measurement and go/no go fixtures offer a higher degree of certainty.
  • 7. Write a justification for an extension of the implementation timeline if a CAPA is about to become overdue. Justifications for extension provide objective evidence that management is aware that a CAPA plan is not meeting the target completion times. This is necessary on rare occasions, but extensions should never become routine. Also, if the progress of a CAPA is slow, monitoring should be frequent enough that management can release additional resources, or re-prioritize assignments in order to catch-up with the target completion date.
  • 8. Use the “5 Why” technique for root cause analysis to identify a user error to blame for complaints. The “5 Why” technique is effective at investigating the depth of a problem to ensure that the root cause is identified—instead of a symptom. If the reason for a problem is recognized as a supplier, then it is necessary to ask why the supplier’s error was not prevented or detected. Sometimes this requires asking “Why” more than five times, but identifying a cause you have no control over will fix nothing
  • 9. To monitor your CAPA program, conduct weekly CAPA board meetings where a person is asked to explain why the CAPA they were assigned is overdue. Anyone can make an excuse, but excuses will not complete CAPAs. CAPA boards and weekly meetings can be extremely valuable, but your CAPA board should rely on three rules: 1. Managers need to be present to re-allocate resources and re-prioritize tasks. 2. CAPAs that are on schedule or ahead of schedule requires no further discussion. 3. Anyone assigned to a CAPA that is behind schedule should request help and suggest solutions before the CAPA becoming overdue.
  • 10. Do not assign other departments the responsibility for CAPAs, because only QA has the training and competency to conduct an investigation of the root cause, and write a CAPA plan.  One of the most effective CAPA management tools I observed was a visual communication board that used color-coded paperclips, which identified resources assigned to CAPAs. By limiting the number of paperclips to equal the number of resources allocated to CAPAs, the company was able to level the workload of CAPA assignments to match the available resources in each department. You can only achieve this level of efficiency and effectiveness if multiple people in multiple departments are trained and competent to investigate the root cause and write CAPA plans. CAPA should be a core competency for every department because it’s the best process for fixing and preventing problems.

Disclaimer: If you missed my sarcasm, these are ten ways to mismanage a CAPA program. The brief paragraph after each numbered example is intended to provide the actual recommendation for effective management of your CAPA program.

%name Effective Management Solutions for 10 CAPA Program BlundersIf you are interested in learning more about CAPA, please register for the Medical Device Academy’s CAPA Workshop on October 3 in San Diego. Click here to register for the event: http://bit.ly/MDAWorkshops.

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How to Utilize CAPA Training To Avoid FDA 483 Citations

The author discusses how formal CAPA training can help solve the four most common CAPA deficiencies and help avoid FDA 483 citations.

%name How to Utilize CAPA Training To Avoid FDA 483 Citations

Corrective And Preventive Action (CAPA) is considered to be one of the most critical processes in a Quality Management System (QMS). CAPAs prevent nonconformities from recurring, as well as identify potential problems that may occur within the QMS.

Both the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 820.100) and the ISO 13485 Standard (8.5.2 and 8.5.3, respectively) include similar requirements for establishing and maintaining a compliant CAPA process. The concept seems pretty straightforward, right?

Then why do so many companies struggle with this process and go into panic mode during FDA inspections and Notified Body audits?

CAPA process deficiencies have long been the number one Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) violation cited in FDA Warning Letters. Therefore, providing trained experts to teach the CAPA process is well worth the investment to provide your employees with the expertise needed to implement a sustainable, effective, and compliant process. Support from top management is a must for success.

7 Reasons Why There is LIttle Support for the CAPA Process
  1. Managers view CAPA as a necessary evil and apply minimum effort and resources to complete the required paperwork.
  2. All complaints, audit findings, shop floor nonconformities, etc., go straight into the CAPA system, resulting in what is known as “Death by CAPA.” There are hundreds of CAPAs to be dealt with, but the CAPAs languish and quickly become a mountain of overdue records.
  3. The lack of ability to conduct effective root cause analysis results in, at best, a band-aid solution, and recurrence of the same issues time and again.
  4. There is no risk-based or prioritization process that provides a triage for determining when a CAPA is appropriate, and how to classify its criticality.
  5. CAPA forms are either too restrictive, such as using “yes/no” questions, thereby stemming the creative flow of process thinking or, too open-ended, leaving the CAPA owner with little guidance for getting to the exact root cause.
  6. Trending and metrics that would highlight quality issues before they become complaints are lacking, so most CAPAs are last-minute reactions to a crisis, instead of proactive improvement projects.
  7. Senior management has not allocated sufficient time and resources to CAPA owners to develop expertise, and clearly do not understand the nuances of FDA compliance, the ISO Standard, and the responsibilities of CAPA ownership.
Consequences of an Ineffective CAPA System: FDA 483 Citations Are Possible

FDA 483 observations, Warning Letters, and loss of your ISO 13485 certification are possible consequences of failing to manage your CAPA process. Imagine explaining to your customers why you lost your certification, and why they should keep you as a trusted supplier. That is not a conversation you want to have.

A weak CAPA process allows nonconformities to recur, results in manufacturing downtime, requires to rework, and ends with the scrapping of product or lost customers. The consequences of a weak CAPA process negatively impact your company’s financial strategy and goals.

To prevent an increase in the cost of poor quality, your business cannot remain static. You need to improve and adopt best practices. Your CAPA process is a systematic way to make those improvements happen.

Characteristics of an Effective CAPA system?
  • Easy to follow the procedure
  • Defined CAPA inputs
  • Risk assessment and prioritization
  • Root-cause investigation tools
  • A well-defined action plan
  • Metrics to track progress
  • Communication of information and status
  • Effectiveness checks
  • Management support and escalation
What to Expect from Formal CAPA Training

Death by Powerpoint is not training. Effective CAPA training requires hands-on participation in working through root-cause analysis with an expert. One of the best training tools is case studies based upon recent 483 observations. A CAPA training course should teach you how to:

  1. Accurately identify the cause of problems
  2. Prioritize your corrective and preventive actions using a risk-based approach
  3. Implement an appropriate corrective and/or preventive action, and
  4.  Verify the effectiveness of your actions

CAPA training should teach you how to reduce the length and number of investigations. Training will also help you master current problem-solving methodologies to identify true root causes, utilizing facts, instead of guesswork or opinion. The proper identification of the exact root cause of a problem is critical because otherwise, your CAPA plan will fail to fix real problems.

Not all formal training needs to be in-person. Face-to-face training can be supplemented with more cost-effective training of concepts using webinars and recorded presentations. Interactive training is needed to supplement this training so that students can practice what they learn.

How Training Solves Common CAPA Deficiencies

The four most common CAPA deficiencies are:

  1. Inadequate procedures
  2. Incomplete investigations
  3. Overdue actions, and
  4. Failure to perform an effectiveness check

Each of these deficiencies is addressed directly by CAPA training. Formal CAPA training reviews each of the requirements for your CAPA process, and trainers will often share samples of CAPA procedures, and CAPA forms that they wrote and found to be effective. Learning multiple root cause investigation techniques, and practicing them using the case study technique, ensure that CAPAs are thoroughly investigated, rather than identifying superficial symptoms.

CAPA metrics are introduced during training to ensure that the CAPA process owner knows best practices for monitoring and analyzing the process. Finally, CAPA training includes specific examples of what is and what is not, a proper technique for performing an effectiveness check.

Results After Formal CAPA Training

The best reason for making formal CAPA training available to the people responsible for CAPAs are the results you will experience after the training. For example:

  1. Elimination of hundreds of overdue CAPAs
  2. Reduction in nonconformities, scrap, rework and customer complaints
  3. Lower overall costs associated with quality problems
  4. Better FDA inspection and Notified Body outcomes, and
  5. Safer products for your customer

%name How to Utilize CAPA Training To Avoid FDA 483 CitationsIf you are interested in learning more about CAPA, click here to register for Medical Device Academy’s Risk-Based CAPA webinar.

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Keeping Design Projects on Schedule: Using the CAPA Process

%name Keeping Design Projects on Schedule: Using the CAPA Process The author provides two steps to consider taking now and steps to take in the future that will help keep design projects on schedule using the CAPA process.

The ability to get new, high-quality products to market quickly is the most important core competency for a company to develop. What is your company doing to improve the performance of your design teams? If you have trouble answering the above question, you should consider performing a detailed internal audit of your design control process: http://bit.ly/AuditDesign.

The only significant change I would make to my recommendations from 2012 is to follow the GHTF guidance document for creating technical files using the STED format, instead of using NB-MED 2.5.1/Rec 5: http://bit.ly/GHTFSTEDGuidance. This approach to creating a technical file lends itself to meeting the Canadian Requirements for Medical Device Licensing, and this is the preferred format of Technical Files in Annex II of the proposed EU regulations.

At the end of the blog on how to audit design controls, Step 7 states that you should “Ask the process owner to identify some metrics or quality objectives they are using to monitor and improve the design and development process…If the process owner is tracking no metrics, you might review schedule compliance.” The two most common reasons why design projects are not able to keep pace with the design plan schedule are: 1) there are insufficient resources allocated for the project, and 2) the estimates of the duration for tasks in the schedule are too aggressive.

Step 1: Estimating the Duration of Tasks

Task duration is the easiest quality objective to track performance against. Whether you track design projects with an Excel spreadsheet or Microsoft Project, you can easily compare the actual duration of any project task with the estimated duration that was planned at the beginning of the project. It is important to measure the length of labor hours, rather than using the number of people because most design team members are multi-tasking. You can and should mine the data from previous design projects because this information is available now. As you go through historical data, you will also realize where there are weaknesses in how you capture data regarding labor hours.

Once you have the raw data, I recommend analyzing the data using % deviation and total hours. The % deviation will tell you which estimates were the least accurate, and the total hours will tell you which estimates have the most significant impact on the total project. Ideally, you will collect data from multiple projects, so that you can determine if the deviations are consistent from project-to-project.

This data analysis is important because the data analysis will help identify the root cause for inaccurate task duration estimates. You may also want to perform a Pareto Analysis of the data to prioritize which project tasks would benefit most from more accurate estimates. Once you have identified the root cause for inaccurate estimates, you can initiate Corrective And Preventive Actions (CAPA), where appropriate.

Step 2: Allocation of Resources

You may hear the phrase “Do more with less,” but I like to joke that design teams are expected to “Do everything with nothing.” If your design team is monitoring the accuracy of taking duration estimates for design projects, the accuracy of your project plans should improve. Your management team should also develop greater confidence in your teams’ ability to forecast product launch dates, thereby the estimates for resource needs. Managers frequently challenge you to achieve the impossible.

The most famous example of this is when Steve Jobs challenged Steve Wozniak to design the video game Breakout in just a few days. If you are the next Steve Jobs, and you have Woz on your team, keep aiming for the moon. If your team consists of mere mortals, you might need more resources. Your senior management may not have additional resources to provide, but it is critical to accurately estimate the resources needed for projects. If you can estimate accurately, you will have the following impact on your company:

  1. You will be able to estimate the amount of time to market that can be reduced by adding resources.
  2. You will be able to estimate the cost impact of unrealistic management timelines—instead of saying, “I can’t push it any faster, Captain.” (my favorite Star Trek quote).
Future Steps: Preventive Actions

In one of my previous postings (http://bit.ly/PASources), I stated, “The most fruitful source of preventive actions, however, is data analysis of process control monitoring.” If you are monitoring and measuring your design control process, you can use this approach to:

  • Identify preventive actions for your design process
  • Establish specifications for critical path tasks in each project
  • Calculate your design process capability for successful completion based upon historical data

The answer to the following question may help you identify your next design process improvement. How close are your estimates to achieving a Cpk > 1.33 for completing design verification protocols on-time? %name Keeping Design Projects on Schedule: Using the CAPA Process If you are interested in learning more about CAPA, please register for the Medical Device Academy’s CAPA Workshop on September 9 in Orlando, or on October 3 in San Diego. Click here to register for the event: http://bit.ly/MDAWorkshops.

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How to perform a quantitative CAPA effectiveness check

This article review explains how to conduct a quantitative CAPA effectiveness check, and you will also learn three methods NOT recommended.

quantitative effectiveness check 1024x713 How to perform a quantitative CAPA effectiveness check

There are three methods NOT recommended for a CAPA effectiveness check:

  1. verifying the procedure was revised,
  2. verifying employees were retrained, and
  3. making sure mistakes don’t occur 3x in a row.

The best method is to establish quantitative criteria for effectiveness based upon data collected during the investigation of the root cause. The graph above is an example of objective evidence that preventive action was effective. The chart shows that the process capability (Cpk) was improved from 0.837 to 2.50 by changing a process set-point to adjust the mean of the dimension closer to the center of the specification range. This is typical of adjustments made during process validation and revalidation activities.

Incorrect Method 1: Verify the Procedure was Revised

When a nonconformity is identified during an ISO 13485 audit, the laziest way to “fix” the problem is to revise your procedure. Despite the fact that most FDA 483s identify inadequate procedures as the reason for observation, your procedures are seldom the problem. Your employees may not even be following the procedures. Repeatedly revising procedures may be part of the problem. If you must revise your procedures, please involve the people that use the procedures.

Incorrect Method 2: Verify Employees were Retrained

During your last surveillance audit, you may have revised the procedure, but your auditor noticed that there were no retraining records for employees that were performing the revised procedure. One interviewee was unable to identify where the new inspection step could be found in the revised procedure. It’s too bad the interviewee didn’t notice the bold and underlined text indicating recent revisions. Your auditor wonders how effective your retraining process is.

Incorrect Method 3: No Mistakes 3x in a Row

Last month a manufacturing engineer was assigned to perform an effectiveness check related to corrective actions implemented in the incoming inspection process. The procedure was revised to clarify the proper procedure for a statistical sampling of rolls of plastic film as a corrective action. The engineer sampled the three most recent lots of the same plastic film that was incorrectly sampled in the past. All three lots were correctly sampled in accordance with the revised procedure. The engineer reported that the corrective actions implemented were effective. However, you have two new nonconformities on your desk from manufacturing related to incorrect sampling procedures during an incoming inspection of other raw materials. Now you wonder if the incoming inspection procedure was the real root cause.

Corrective actions that are actually effective

Instead of adding something to your procedures each time someone makes a mistake, you might want to think about how you can simplify and streamline your procedures with fewer words. You can say things more clearly with pictures and flow charts instead of hundreds of words. Training effectiveness can be verified with exams that ensure employees “read and understand” your revised procedures. Finally, when you identify a nonconformity with one product, you need to ensure that you consider how similar mistakes might occur with similar products. Maybe you need a process for incoming inspection that doesn’t rely upon someone reading procedures.

You need to be objective to perform an effectiveness check

The biggest weakness of the auditing process is that it relies heavily upon the subjective opinion of an auditor. This is why auditors are supposed to audit against objective audit criteria in an international standard. The need for objectivity is also why there are guidance documents to clarify a consistent interpretation of those standards. Therefore, when you perform an effectiveness check, you also need objectivity. The best way to ensure objectivity is to establish documented criteria for effectiveness prior to finalizing your corrective action plan. Ideally, that will be in the form of a prospective process validation protocol with quantitative acceptance criteria.

How to ensure objectivity

The single best way to ensure objectivity when you are performing a CAPA effectiveness check is to define the post-implementation goal in terms of a quantitative quality objective. Ideally, you can graph the quality metric using historical data and current data. If you need statistical analysis to see a difference between pre- and post-implementation of the CAPA, then your CAPA was not effective. If your graph looks like a miracle happened and the metric changed almost overnight, and timing corresponds to the date your corrective action(s) was implemented, then your CAPA was effective.

How to set a quality objective for you CAPA effectiveness check

Some people have trouble with using a quantitative approach in performing effectiveness checks because some things are harder to measure than others. However, you can measure anything. For example, you can even measure employees forgetting to initial and date changes to quality records. This can be done by identifying critical control points where quality records are reviewed, and documentation errors are measured. You can measure by the employee, by form, by month, etc. The key to monitoring and measuring a process is to answer the following questions:

  1. Who will measure it?
  2. What will be measured?
  3. Where will it be measured?
  4. When will it be measured?
  5. How will it be measured?
  6. How will measurements be analyzed?
  7. Who will data analysis be communicated to?

When to Perform a CAPA Effectiveness Check

Many companies set arbitrary deadlines for performing an effectiveness check (e.g., – between 30 and 60 days of implementation of corrective actions). Some companies use a risk-based approach to their CAPA process, and the urgency of effectiveness checks may be a function of risk. I recommend a completely different approach. Instead of using an arbitrary or risk-based approach, I recommend monitoring your new quality metric to estimate how long it will take to reach your new quality objective.
%name How to perform a quantitative CAPA effectiveness check

If you are interested in learning more about CAPA, click here to register for Medical Device Academy’s Risk-Based CAPA webinar.

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