April 9, 2019

How the Best Medical Writers Master Quality Control

Author: Ashley Self

As a medical writer you juggle huge, complicated data sets from hundreds of source studies, analyze that data to draw conclusions and ensure all your processes meet regulatory guidelines. You simply remember all that information, right? Also, you’re perfect. You’ve never pasted a series of data into the wrong cell or misplaced a decimal point. Especially not after working ten hours straight to meet a deadline.

What’s that? You’re human?

Join the club. It’s only reasonable to anticipate an occasional error from a medical writer who is tasked with researching, analyzing, processing, and inputting large volumes of data and information. That’s why the best medical writing teams have built quality control protocols into their processes, starting from the beginning.

That’s right. Good quality control isn’t just proofing the final document before it’s submitted. It’s an ongoing process. Implementing the following best practices is the first step in a robust quality control plan.

Start with Templates

Working from document templates is a great way to save time and ensure formatting, naming conventions and document style guidelines remain uniform in a large document. (Have MS Word do the work for you) Templates allow you, the writer, to stick to content rather than constantly having to pull up formatting tools to make adjustments as you write. When the time comes for a final quality control proof, documents created from a template typically have fewer formatting corrections and also take much less time to review. As an added bonus, working from a template can also ensure that the document will translate into the final submission format without errors.

Stop and Review

Medical writing teams should also practice a “review as you go” approach to data extraction and writing. When adding a new data set to the document, comparing that data to the source data before moving on to the next section doesn’t take much time and can catch costly mistakes early. 

To make these early interventions run smoothly, new writers should be trained on how to properly use document templates and how to run mini quality control checks throughout the writing process. 

The Final Step

Even with the above protocols, in the end, a comprehensive quality control review by an independent quality control specialist is mandatory. This quality control specialist should have specific training on how to effectively review the final document based on general best practices and internal guidelines. During this final review, the reviewer will check all data against the data source; confirm that conclusions and findings are supported by the data; check for formatting, grammatical and style errors; verify all internal and external links and references; and confirm the content and structure meets regulatory guidelines.

Get a free copy of the quality control checklist

At this critical stage, it is important to maintain an audit trail of all changes and corrections recommended by the quality control reviewer. In addition to noting these changes through a tracking feature in the software, the reviewer should note major content issues in a separate report. As the original writer, you must then go through the final document and make the changes. If there is a major error you think was noted by mistake, you can explain your reasoning in the quality control report. When any major changes are made, you must also remember to review the related conclusions to confirm the data still verifies. At this point, any dynamic links within the document should also be broken.

While a quality control reviewer’s job may seem small compared to the medical writer’s, reviewing a document that is several hundred pages long and full of thousands of data points is a painstaking process. This is not something that can be dropped in their inbox a few hours before your deadline. Quality control review should be scheduled in your original project scope. After all, the quality control review ultimately upholds your stellar reputation and keeps all your hard work from being invalidated because of a small error.

Worried you may miss something? Download our Free Quality Control Checklist.

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