This article shows you how to think strategically when you plan a mock FDA inspection to ensure that you successfully prevent an unpleasant FDA inspection.
For the past couple of years, several clients have asked me to conduct mock FDA inspections to prepare them for a potential FDA inspection. I am writing from Shanghai, China, where I am conducting a mock FDA inspection for a medical device client with another auditor from the company’s business unit in the USA.
The mock FDA inspections I conduct are internal audits and technically not an inspection because inspectors are looking for nonconformities, and I am looking for conformity with the FDA regulations (i.e., 21 CFR 820, 21 CFR 803 and 21 CFR 806). Inspections are conducted by FDA investigators that are conducting an inspection in accordance with the FDA QSIT manual (http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/Inspections/InspectionGuides/ucm074883.htm). I use the process approach to conduct audits of the four major quality systems that FDA inspectors focus on during an FDA inspection. Still, as an auditor, I have several advantages that an inspector doesn’t.
- I can evaluate auditees and coach them on how to respond to an FDA inspector more effectively.
- I can teach my client’s internal auditors and management team how to use internal audits and Notified Body audits as practice for their next FDA inspection.
- I can avoid any area that my client wants me to and focus on areas of concern.
- I can help my client identify the most likely product or product family to be targeted by the FDA.
- I can give my client advice and help them implement corrective actions.
- I can teach my client how to respond to potential FDA Form 483s to avoid a Warning Letter.
Opening meeting for a mock FDA inspection
FDA inspections are not planned, but it is important to make sure that the right people are available and present during a mock FDA inspection, or your “inspector(s)” may not be able to review the records or interview the most important people. Therefore, I provide an agenda ahead of time, indicating which processes I will be auditing on which days. My agenda for a mock FDA inspection begins with an opening meeting, but the purpose of this opening meeting is primarily training. I take advantage of having all the senior managers in one room as an opportunity to explain how they can benefit most from the audit, and to remind them of what to expect during a real FDA inspection.
After the opening meeting, I take a brief tour—unless I already know the facility well. Before I leave for the tour, I ask my client to be prepared for me to begin auditing nonconformities, complaint handling, MDRs, and recalls when I return to the conference room. I select these areas because the FDA always starts with the CAPA process, but they look closely at the sources of CAPAs at the same time. I believe that inspectors rarely take “random samples.” Instead, most inspectors use the sources of CAPAs to help them bias there sampling of CAPAs.
Production and Process Controls
The next major process in my agenda after CAPAs and sources of CAPAs is production and process controls. The sequence of my process for auditing this area is always the same: 1) request the Device Master Record (DMR) for the target product or product family, 2) request two or more recent Device Master Records (DHRs) that were associated with a complaint record or MDR (remember samples are never random), and 3) I then go to the production areas identified in the DHR, and I try to interview the people that produced the lot identified in the DHR—rather than the people the department manager feels are the most experienced. This process of working backward from complaint records and MDRs to the activities on the production floor often allows me to help companies identify a root cause that they missed when the complaint or MDR was initially investigated.
Auditing a Design History File (DHF) is about as exciting as watching paint dry for most auditors. Still, I am always fascinated with how things work, so I am more engaging with the design team members I interview during a mock FDA inspection. I also like to focus on aspects of the design that have proven to be less than perfect—by reviewing nonconformities, complaints, MDRs, recalls, and CAPAs first. For example, if I see several complaints related to primary packaging failures, I am going to spend more time reviewing the shipping validation and shelf-life testing, than I might normally allocate.
The FDA is somewhat limited in this area because, in accordance with 21 CFR 820.180(e), the records of internal audits, supplier evaluations, and management reviews are exempt from FDA inspections. During a mock FDA inspection, I do not have this constraint. Therefore, I will often look more closely at these three areas than an FDA inspector to make sure my client has effective management processes. While procedures and schedules are the focus of an FDA inspector, I will make sure that the problems I observed in nonconformities, complaints, MDRs, and recalls are being addressed by management. As a quality manager, this is not always easy to do. Still, as an independent consultant, I have the luxury of being blunt when a senior manager needs to hear from someone other than the typical “yes men.” I also can use this part of mock FDA inspections to benchmark best practices I have learned from the hundreds of companies against what my client is currently doing to manage their quality system.
When to schedule a mock FDA inspection
Scheduling a mock FDA inspection immediately after an FDA inspection is pointless, but there is an optimal time for scheduling your mock FDA inspection. The FDA target is to conduct inspections once every two years for Class II device manufacturers. However, some district offices do better or worse than this target. Therefore, it’s important to keep track of the typical frequency in your district and the date of your last inspection. If the FDA is on a two-year cycle, you want to conduct your mock FDA inspection approximately 6-9 months before the next FDA inspection to ensure that you have time to implement corrective actions before the FDA inspector arrives.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend watching and listening to my free webinar on how to prepare for an FDA inspection:
In addition to preparing for an actual inspection, every company must know how to respond effectively to an FDA 483 inspection observation:
In addition to my blog, I also have recorded a webinar on this topic:
Finally, every manager needs to be reminded that FDA 483s are just another opportunity to write a CAPA and improve their quality system. Therefore, do yourself a favor and watch my new webinar on creating a risk-based CAPA process: