Keys to Establishing a Communication Plan for a Medical Device Recall

4/19/2023 John Bradley

Keys to Establishing a Communication Plan for a Medical Device Recall

Medical devices play a critical role in our lives, and as such, the safety and reliability of these devices cannot be taken lightly. Unfortunately, even the most rigorously tested devices can occasionally fail or cause harm to patients, leading to recalls. In such instances, timely and effective communication is crucial to ensuring the safety and well-being of patients, healthcare providers, and the general public.

According to Sedgwick, FDA Class 1 recalls hit a 15-year high in 2022. With the increasing focus on patient safety and regulatory compliance, the need for immediate and effective communication during a recall is essential.

Developing a recall communication plan is a critical step for medical device companies to manage the risks associated with recalls. In this blog post, I outline some of the important things you need to know about developing a recall communication plan, including why it's important, the key elements of establishing such a plan, and where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fits in all of it.

Why is it important for medical device companies to have a recall communication plan in place?

Recalls can have serious consequences for patients, healthcare providers, and the company itself. Here are a handful of reasons why having a recall plan is important:

Protect patient safety – The primary reason for a recall is to protect patient safety. A recall may be initiated if there is a defect in the device that could cause harm to patients. A recall plan ensures that the company can respond quickly and effectively to minimize the risk to patients.

Compliance with regulatory requirements – Medical device recalls are regulated by government agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Companies that fail to comply with regulatory requirements could face fines, legal action, and damage to their reputation. Having a recall plan in place ensures that the company can meet regulatory requirements and avoid these consequences.

Minimize impact on business – A recall can have a significant impact on a company's finances and reputation. A recall plan ensures that the company can respond quickly and effectively to minimize the impact on the business. This could include communicating effectively with stakeholders and providing appropriate compensation or refunds to customers.

Maintain customer trust – A recall can erode customer trust in a company and its products. Having a recall plan in place demonstrates to customers that the company takes their safety seriously and is prepared to respond quickly and effectively to any issues that arise.

Legal protection – A recall plan can provide legal protection for the company in case of a lawsuit. By demonstrating that the company took appropriate steps to respond to the issue, the company may be able to avoid or minimize liability.

What are the keys to establishing a communication plan for medical device recalls?

Establishing a communication plan for medical device recalls will help 1) ensure the safety of patients and 2) compliance with regulatory requirements. Here are some steps that a medical device company can follow to create an effective communication plan:

Identify the recall team – The first step is to identify the team that will be responsible for managing the recall. This team should include representatives from different departments, such as quality, regulatory, legal, and communication.

Develop a recall strategy – The recall team should develop a recall strategy that outlines the scope of the recall, the reason for the recall, the level of risk to patients, and the actions that need to be taken. The strategy should also include a plan for communicating with stakeholders, such as healthcare providers, patients, and regulatory authorities.

Determine the communication channels – The next step is to determine the communication channels that will be used to inform stakeholders about the recall. This could include email, phone, social media, websites, and traditional media outlets.

Prepare communication materials – The recall team should prepare communication materials that are clear, concise, and easy to understand. These materials should explain the reason for the recall, the level of risk to patients, and the actions that need to be taken. The materials should also include contact information for the recall team, so that stakeholders can ask questions or report adverse events.

Test the communication plan – Before launching the communication plan, the recall team should test the plan to ensure that it works as intended. This could involve conducting a mock recall exercise or a tabletop exercise to simulate a recall scenario. This is important as more communications will go direct to the patient/consumer, which means the direction and desired expectations of what the patient needs to do has to be clear.

Launch the communication plan –  Once the communication plan has been tested, the recall team can launch the plan and start communicating with stakeholders. The team should monitor the effectiveness of the plan and make adjustments as needed.

Evaluate the communication plan – After the recall is complete, the recall team should evaluate the effectiveness of the communication plan and identify areas for improvement. This will help the company be better prepared for future recalls.

How and where does the FDA fit into all of this?

The FDA plays a critical role in overseeing the execution of a recall communication plan by a medical device company. The FDA is responsible for regulating medical devices in the United States and ensuring their safety and effectiveness.

When a medical device company executes a recall communication plan, they are required to report the recall to the FDA. The FDA then evaluates the recall to ensure that it is appropriate and effective in protecting public health. The FDA also monitors the recall to ensure that it is carried out properly and that the company is complying with regulatory requirements.

The FDA reviews the recall strategy, the recall communication plan, and the content of the recall notice to ensure that it is clear, accurate, and provides sufficient information to enable customers to take appropriate action. If the recall communication plan is inadequate, the FDA may require the company to modify the plan or provide additional information.

The FDA also monitors the effectiveness of the recall by reviewing the company's progress reports, evaluating customer feedback and complaints, and conducting inspections and audits as necessary. If the recall is not effective or if the company fails to comply with regulatory requirements, the FDA may take enforcement action, including fines, legal action, or product seizures.

What support is available for producing and distributing medical device recall notices? 

There are multiple resources you will likely need to engage:

Third-party recall management firms – There are firms that specialize in managing product recalls. These firms can provide end-to-end support for the recall process, including developing the recall strategy, drafting the recall notices, managing the logistics of the recall, and communicating with stakeholders.

Public relations firms – Public relations firms can assist with the communication and messaging aspects of a recall. They can help the company develop a clear and consistent message for different stakeholders, manage media relations, and monitor social media and online forums for feedback.

Marketing and advertising agencies – Marketing and advertising agencies can assist with the production of recall notices and other communication materials. They can provide graphic design services, copywriting, and video production services.

Legal firms – Legal firms provide guidance on regulatory compliance and liability issues related to recalls. They can also assist with drafting and reviewing recall notices to ensure they are accurate and comply with regulatory requirements.

It’s critical for medical device companies to choose a partner with expertise in managing recalls, and that can provide the necessary centralized services and support to ensure a timely and effective recall. They should also ensure that the partner they choose has experience working within the medical device industry and is familiar with regulatory requirements and best practices for managing recalls in that field. Having experience at every step of the process is invaluable.


John Bradley is the Director of Solutions Engineering for RRD Life Sciences.

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