DSCSA and Exception Handling: What to Know for Compliance

DSCSA and Exception Handling: What to Know for Compliance

In the complex and tightly regulated world of pharmaceuticals, ensuring safety and traceability is paramount. The Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) is a critical piece of legislation aimed at enhancing the security and traceability of pharmaceutical products throughout the supply chain. DSCSA exception handling represents a key component of this regulatory framework. It involves managing deviations from standard procedures to maintain the supply chain. In the following, you can explore the importance of DSCSA exception handling guidelines for maintaining the quality and safety of physical products in the pharmaceutical industry.

Key Concepts and Definitions

Before delving into the nuances of DSCSA 2023 provisions, examining some critical terms associated with this process is helpful. Exceptions refer to instances where deviations from standard procedures occur within the pharmaceutical supply chain. These deviations may include:

  • Discrepancies in transaction information
  • Product identifier records
  • Chain of custody between distributors and dispensers
  • Errors in transaction statements

Deviations are specific instances of exceptions that require investigation and resolution. In contrast, a waiver is an official exemption granted under certain circumstances that relieves you from specific DSCSA requirements.

Generally speaking, exception handling applies to all authorized trading partners — entities involved in the pharma supply chain — such as the following:

  • Wholesale distributors
  • Repackagers
  • Third-party logistics providers
  • Dispensers

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds these entities accountable for adherence to the DSCSA and specific exception-handling guidelines.

Understanding DSCSA Exception Handling Guidelines

Throughout the DSCSA timeline, which featured a phased rollout of the regulatory framework, exception handling has remained a fundamental component of the act. The Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) has helped affected entities keep pace with the latest changes and updates to exception handling by publishing a comprehensive list of guidelines.

These guidelines include processes for identifying, documenting, investigating, and resolving exceptions promptly. As part of your exception management strategy, you must maintain master data for prescription drugs. This database needs to include package-level product data as well as transaction data.

You can use this information to track the flow of goods along the supply chain and to identify discrepancies that deviate from your standard processes and workflows. Additionally, you are required to maintain accurate records of exception-handling activities, including investigation findings, corrective actions taken, and methods used to keep stakeholders in the loop.

For instance, you might identify a suspect product that may have been compromised. In that case, you will have to determine which pallets of goods were impacted and take appropriate action (e.g., initiate a recall or notify the FDA).

Compliance with DSCSA exception handling guidelines is essential. It allows you to uphold product traceability, prevent counterfeit products from entering the supply chain, and protect patient safety.

Types of Exceptions in Pharmaceutical Traceability

Within your pharmaceutical traceability framework, you may encounter several types of exceptions. Each situation requires a specific response.

For instance, product recalls necessitate immediate action to remove affected products from circulation and notify relevant stakeholders. Suspected counterfeit products must be reported and investigated thoroughly to ensure that they are not distributed to patients.

Discrepancies in product documentation, such as incorrect product identifiers or expiration dates, pose risks to your supply chain integrity and patient health. You must carefully investigate these exceptions to prevent misidentification and mitigate expiration risk.

Other slightly less severe exceptions may include shipping errors, packaging defects, and deviations from temperature control requirements. Though these issues are not as severe, they require prompt attention. You must also document any corrective actions that you took to remedy the problem.

Best Practices for Managing Exceptions

The DSCSA delay to late November 2024 has provided organizations with extra time to ensure compliance. However, this window is rapidly closing, so you must act now to capitalize on this added grace period, as the FDA is unlikely to offer another extension. Do you need help determining where to begin? We recommend implementing a few exception-handling best practices.

First and foremost, be proactive when communicating with stakeholders and trading partners. Reiterate the importance of rapid response and discuss ways to minimize exceptions’ impact on your supply chain. Establishing clear escalation procedures and designated points of contact will accelerate your resolution capabilities and lower the risk of response delays.

Moreover, it is crucial to create a detailed paper trail of your efforts. Whenever you encounter a discrepancy, you must protect the supply chain by documenting the scope of the problem and how you responded to it. Additionally, note the outcomes you achieved.

Thorough documentation enables your business to track the status of exceptions and identify trends or patterns. You can also use your records for auditing purposes and to help prevent minor issues from becoming more prominent, recurring problems.

Perhaps most importantly, you must collaborate with trading partners and regulatory agencies. Don’t view the DSCSA as a source of contention between supply chain members. Instead, acknowledge its intended purpose: to promote unity and optimize patient safety.

Implementing Exception Handling Processes

As you implement DSCSA exception-handling processes in your company, it’s crucial to establish open lines of communication between key stakeholders. Define clear roles and responsibilities for each entity. You and other organizational leaders should create procedures for identifying, categorizing, and prioritizing exceptions based on their severity and potential impact.

Next, develop a training strategy to promote a practical understanding of your policies and procedures. Conducting what-if scenarios can help your staff move from theoretical concepts to practical applications.

Investing in automation and other technology solutions can streamline exception management by facilitating real-time monitoring. With the right tools, you’ll gain actionable insights into deviations, enabling you to remedy them more effectively before they have a major impact on your operations.

Lastly, prioritize continuous evaluation and improvement. After you’ve met the minimum standards, explore ways to become more efficient at handling exceptions.

Ensuring Compliance With DSCSA Requirements

The FDA continues to provide updated guidance on DSCSA exception handling requirements. While the regulatory landscape is still evolving, a few ways exist to build a strong compliance posture and stay ahead of the learning curve.

Start by reevaluating your record-keeping and documentation strategies. Ensure that your team maintains detailed records of all exceptions and your response to these deviations.

Furthermore, conduct regular internal audits to assess your compliance status and identify areas for improvement. Taking compliance into your own hands will help you breeze through FDA audits and avoid regulatory penalties.

Additionally, adopting standardized processes for exception handling is vital. Creating and educating your team on a set of standardized responses enables you to promote consistency and efficiency in dealing with deviations from “business as usual.”

Collaborating with industry associations like the HDA can further strengthen your compliance posture and help promote alignment between your business and its trading partners.

Training and Education for Stakeholders

Implementing robust protocols and automation-centric technologies represents a huge step toward DSCSA compliance. However, the efficacy of these efforts hinges on your team’s knowledge and skills. With that in mind, investing in training and education for stakeholders is vital.

As you design your training programs, move beyond theoretical concepts and focus on practical applications. Explain what DSCSA exception handling is, why it matters, and how your team can contribute to a strong compliance posture. By teaching team members the “why” behind your initiative, you can promote better buy-in and increased adherence to the new policies.

Don’t rely on a single training delivery method, either. Instead, provide your staff with multiple educational resources, such as online courses, webinars, and in-person training, to maximize information retention.

Challenges and Considerations

Whether you have stayed apprised of the latest DSCSA regulatory requirements or are playing catch-up, you must familiarize yourself with the challenges you’ll likely encounter on your compliance journey. The biggest hurdle is change management.

Adopting new processes, technologies, and workflows is challenging for everyone. Therefore, it is essential to keep your team in the loop from day one.

Another common barrier to exception-handling compliance is the need for the right technologies and tools. You need end-to-end visibility into your supply chain to efficiently identify and remedy deficiencies in your compliance posture. Otherwise, significant problems may go unnoticed for weeks, resulting in reporting issues and compliance violations.

Partner with Rfxcel

Remedying this problem requires strategic technology investments. Focus on traceability solutions like rfxcel, an Antares Vision Group, which help you improve information visibility and accessibility. With rfxcel and other traceability tools, you’ll be able to rapidly identify and resolve any threats to business continuity while preserving the integrity of your supply chain.

Contact us today to see how our tailored solutions can help you!

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