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Published:
May 14, 2024
Updated:
May 16, 2024

How to Streamline Visual Quality Inspection for Pharmaceutical brands

Rangan Das

How to Streamline Visual Quality Inspection for Pharmaceutical brands

Published:
May 15, 2024
Updated:
May 16, 2024
Rangan Das

Highlights

Maintaining strict quality control (QC) is paramount in the pharmaceutical industry, where even minor deviations can have life-threatening consequences. In recent years, several high-profile cases of pharmaceutical labeling errors have highlighted the critical importance of robust visual inspection processes. These errors, often stemming from seemingly insignificant mistakes like missing characters, incorrect dosages, or duplicated information, can have serious repercussions, including:

  • Patient harm: Inaccurate labeling can lead to patients receiving the wrong medication, dosage, or instructions, potentially causing adverse reactions or even death. Almost 29% of drug dispensing errors happen because of label-related issues. 
  • Product recalls: Pharmaceutical companies are obligated to recall products with labeling errors, resulting in significant financial losses and reputational damage. In 2023, a leading pharmaceutical company in India recalled a batch of its popular thyroid disorder drug due to incorrect dosage labeling, impacting millions of patients and causing disruptions in treatment.
  • Regulatory penalties: Regulatory agencies can impose hefty fines on companies that fail to comply with labeling guidelines. In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fined a pharmaceutical company $3 billion ($1B criminal, $2B civil) for labeling errors.

Labeling errors can be of multiple types. For instance, it can be missing or incorrect information, dosage errors, or simple typographical errors. 

These consequences underscore the immense value of effective visual inspection in safeguarding patient safety, brand reputation, and regulatory compliance within the pharmaceutical industry. By implementing advanced solutions like Artwork Flow, pharmaceutical brands can significantly streamline and strengthen their visual quality inspection processes, ensuring the accuracy, consistency, and efficiency required for bringing safe and reliable medications to market.

Defining visual quality for pharmaceutical products

In pharmaceutical labeling, even minor deviations can have life-altering consequences, so ensuring visual quality and factual accuracy is paramount. It goes beyond mere aesthetics and encompasses a critical set of criteria that safeguard patient safety, brand reputation, and regulatory compliance. Understanding these criteria forms the cornerstone of effective visual inspection practices.

pharmaceutical products
FDA guidelines for drug labels. Source: fdalisting.com

Here are the key aspects defining visual quality in pharmaceuticals:

1. Labeling accuracy

As mentioned previously, verification of complete and accurate information on the label is crucial, including:

  • Brand name
  • Dosage form and strength
  • Directions for use
  • Contraindications and warnings
  • Lot number and expiration date
  • Manufacturer's information

Adherence to regulatory guidelines for font size, color, layout, and other labeling specifications established by agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is essential. 

However, visual inspection should not be solely focused on visible particles. A holistic approach is necessary, encompassing the primary container and closure to address the full range of potential defects. This includes:

  • Verifying the integrity of containers (vials, bottles, etc.) for any cracks, leaks, or deformations that could compromise product quality or sterility.
  • Inspecting closures (caps, stoppers, etc.) for proper sealing to prevent contamination and ensure tamper-evident features are functional.

2. Packaging integrity

  • Functionality: Verifying that the packaging effectively protects the product from:some text
    • Physical damage like scratches, cracks, or dents. The label should not interfere with the functionality of the container. 
    • Environmental factors like moisture, light, or temperature fluctuations. The label and the printing technology should be resistant to daily wear and tear. 
    • Tampering to safeguard against product substitution or contamination.
  • Materials: Ensuring the printing and packaging materials are compatible with the product and meet safety standards. This includes verifying the absence of harmful chemicals or allergens that could leach into the medication.
  • Security features: Examining the presence and functionality of tamper-evident seals or other security features to deter product tampering.

3. Printing quality

  • Sharpness: Verifying that all text, graphics, and barcodes are crisp, clear, and free of smudges or blurs. This ensures accurate readability and proper scanning of information critical for patient safety and supply chain management.
  • Color consistency: Confirming that colors on the label and packaging match reference specifications and are consistent across the entire batch. Inaccurate colors can lead to misidentification of the product or difficulty in distinguishing crucial information.
  • Registration: Ensuring proper alignment and positioning of all printed elements on the label and packaging. Misalignment can compromise legibility and create confusion for patients and healthcare professionals.

Send out error-free prints with Artwork Flow’s AI-powered print inspection software.

Beyond the fundamentals

Beyond these core aspects, visual quality can also encompass:

  • Clarity of instructions: Verifying clear and concise instructions for product use, storage, and disposal, with appropriate symbols and pictograms where applicable.
  • Aesthetics: While not the primary focus, maintaining professional and consistent aesthetics across the packaging can enhance brand recognition and build patient trust.

The importance of defining visual quality

By clearly defining and adhering to these visual quality standards, pharmaceutical companies can:

  • Reduce the risk of errors: Mitigate the potential for labeling mistakes, incorrect dosages, or product tampering that can harm patients.

Also read: Your 2024 Guide To Reducing Drug Labeling Errors In The Pharma Industry

  • Ensure regulatory compliance: Adhere to stringent quality and labeling regulations set by governing bodies.
  • Protect brand reputation: Maintain patient trust and brand integrity by ensuring high-quality products reach the market.
  • Improve efficiency: Streamline inspection processes through clearly defined criteria and reduce the risk of subjective interpretations.

Extensive visual inspection of pharmaceutical products is an essential component of ensuring patient safety, regulatory compliance, and responsible business practices. 

Charting a visual quality inspection workflow

Maintaining consistent and accurate labeling is critical for pharmaceutical brands. To ensure visual quality meets stringent regulatory requirements and safeguards patient safety, a well-defined and efficient visual inspection workflow is essential. Here's a breakdown of how a comprehensive label audit and a visual inspection should take place:

1. Pre-inspection preparation

  • Documentation: Define clear and concise visual inspection criteria based on relevant regulations (e.g., FDA guidelines) and internal quality standards. This document should outline the specific elements to be inspected, acceptable tolerances, and appropriate actions for non-conforming products.
  • Training: Train inspectors on the established criteria, inspection techniques, and proper documentation procedures. This training should encompass both theoretical aspects and practical exercises to ensure consistent application of inspection standards.
  • Sampling: Define a sampling plan that determines the number and selection process of product labels to be inspected. This plan should consider factors like production batch size, product complexity, and risk assessment.

2. Inspection process

  • Label review: Inspectors thoroughly examine each selected label against the established criteria, focusing on:some text
    • Content accuracy: Verifying the presence and correctness of all mandatory information, including brand name, dosage, directions for use, warnings, and expiry date.
    • Compliance: Ensuring adherence to regulatory guidelines regarding font size, color, layout, and other labeling specifications.
    • Clarity: Assessing the readability and understandability of the information for patients, considering factors like font size, contrast, and potential language barriers.
  • Printing quality: Inspecting the label for:some text
    • Sharpness: Ensuring all text, graphics, and barcodes are clear and free of smudges or blurs.
    • Color consistency: Confirming colors match reference specifications and are consistent across all labels in the sample.
    • Registration: Verifying proper alignment and positioning of all printed elements.

3. Non-conformance and documentation

  • Defect identification: If any discrepancies or defects are identified, they must be clearly documented using a standardized system. This documentation should include:some text
    • Description of the defect
    • Affected product information (e.g., lot number)
    • Date and inspector name
  • Action determination: Based on the severity and nature of the non-conformance, a decision is made on the appropriate action. This could include:some text
    • Rework: If the defect can be rectified, the product can be reworked and re-inspected.
    • Rejection: If the defect is deemed critical or unrectifiable, the product may be rejected and quarantined for further investigation and potential disposal.

4. Reporting and review

  • Inspection records: Maintain detailed records of all inspection activities, including:some text
    • Dates and times of inspections
    • Inspectors involved
    • Sample size and selection information
    • Identified non-conformances and actions taken
  • Performance analysis: Regularly analyze inspection data to identify trends, assess the effectiveness of inspection procedures, and identify areas for improvement. This can help optimize the workflow and ensure consistent adherence to quality standards.

5. Continuous improvement

By implementing a well-defined and regularly reviewed visual quality inspection workflow, pharmaceutical brands can maintain the accuracy and integrity of their product labels, fostering patient trust, ensuring regulatory compliance, and minimizing the risk of product recalls. 

This process should be seen as an ongoing cycle of improvement, adapting to evolving regulations, technological advancements, and any identified shortcomings in the inspection process.

How to streamline visual quality inspection with Artwork Flow

Maintaining meticulous visual quality in pharmaceutical products is paramount, requiring robust and efficient inspection processes. Traditional manual methods, while crucial, can be time-consuming, prone to human error, and lack real-time data visibility. To address these limitations and enhance visual quality inspection, Artwork Flow emerges as a powerful digital solution.

Artwork Flow, coupled with ComplyAI, can act as a digital inspection platform designed to revolutionize visual quality control, particularly in industries with stringent regulatory requirements like pharmaceuticals, and create functional pharmaceutical packaging. Here's how it streamlines the inspection process:

1. Enhanced efficiency and accuracy

  • Digital checklists and templates: Replace paper-based checklists with user-friendly digital versions tailored to specific product inspection requirements. These digital checklists can be easily updated and accessed by inspectors on various devices, eliminating potential errors from manual data entry.
  • Image capture and annotation: Inspectors can review high-resolution images of product labels and directly annotate them with identified defects. This facilitates clear documentation and eliminates the need for handwritten notes or manual transcription, reducing the risk of errors and saving valuable time.
  • ComplyAI: Leverage the power of artificial intelligence (AI) with Artwork Flow's ComplyAI. This AI-powered tool with customizable rule books can automatically analyze labels and identify potential non-conformances based on predefined criteria, significantly reducing inspection times, and minimizing human error.
power of ComplyAI

2. Improved collaboration and transparency

  • Centralized data management: All inspection data, including images, annotations, and timestamps, is stored securely in a centralized cloud-based platform. Such digital asset management allows for easy access and sharing of information across teams, facilitating collaboration between inspectors, quality control personnel, and regulatory bodies.
  • Real-time reporting and analytics: Generate real-time reports on inspection trends, identify recurring issues, and implement targeted corrective actions to continuously improve visual quality control processes. This level of transparency fosters proactive problem-solving and data-driven decision-making.
  • Secure access control: Granular access controls ensure only authorized personnel can view, edit, or download specific digital assets, safeguarding intellectual property and maintaining data security.

3. Regulatory compliance and traceability

  • Audit trails: Artwork Flow maintains a comprehensive audit trail of all inspection activities, including comments and annotations, changes made to labels by version, and user-level activity across teams. This detailed documentation facilitates compliance with regulatory requirements and allows for easy traceability in the event of an audit.
  • Version control: Artwork Flow ensures version control for all product label designs, preventing accidental use of outdated versions and ensuring consistency throughout the inspection process. This minimizes the risk of errors and facilitates adherence to evolving regulations.

Benefits of using Artwork Flow for pharmaceutical brands

  • Reduced inspection times and costs: Streamlined workflows and AI-powered assistance, ComplyAI, lead to faster inspections, freeing up resources and reducing overall quality control costs.
  • Enhanced accuracy and consistency: Digital tools and centralized data management minimize human error and ensure consistent application of inspection criteria across all products.
  • Improved collaboration and communication: Centralized data and real-time reporting allow for better communication and collaboration between internal teams and external partners.
  • Simplified regulatory compliance: Comprehensive audit trails and version control ensure adherence to regulatory requirements and facilitate smooth interactions with regulatory bodies.

Conclusion

By leveraging Artwork Flow's innovative solutions, pharmaceutical brands can significantly streamline and strengthen their visual quality inspection processes. From enhanced efficiency and accuracy to improved collaboration and regulatory compliance, Artwork Flow empowers pharmaceutical companies to deliver high-quality products that meet the stringent requirements of the industry while ensuring patient safety and brand trust. Get the demo today!

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