Remote service providers and outsourcing are nothing new within the medical device manufacturing industry and the medical sector in general. Some notable examples would be language services in the form of medical translators and remote medical interpreters. Medical translators are specialists who take care of multilingual documents from patient medical records to medical device manuals. But remote medical interpreters handle oral communication concerns and provide crucial assistance to doctors and all health professionals treating multilingual patients.
But other than language services, what other operations in medical device manufacturing can be delegated to both service providers and telecommuting employees? Manufacturers, in general, cannot be serviced remotely entirely due to the nature of their industry, however, there are operations that can. This is especially important now as workers in factories are highly vulnerable to infection. In that case, medical device manufacturers need to ensure all operations that can be handled remotely—whether through outsourcing or telecommuting—be done so.
Increasing Telecommuting Schemes and Remote Service Providers
There is a lot of talk about “essential businesses” and which occupations are and are not “essential.” There should be little doubt now more than ever, the continued manufacture and distribution of medical devices is not only essential, but imperative for the successful conclusion of the coronavirus crisis. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, “Medical devices are essential for safe and effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of illness and disease.” In other words, medical device manufacturing is, in fact, more essential during times of medical crises such as during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, now more than ever, it is necessary to focus on how best to ensure no major disruptions occur in manufacturing and operations.
Some may wonder how the medical industry can have more of its operations outsourced and handled remotely if it compromises quality control? But this has already been addressed, for the most part, through the use of EQMS (enterprise quality management software) solutions. The EQMS solutions will furnish live data access to ensure the manufacturing process and the resulting medical devices meet all of the very stringent requirements of production.
But, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been little choice in the medical device industry as they not only need to keep up with unprecedented levels of global demand but to also protect their workforce. As you can see, industries where telecommuting and outsourcing are already utilized not only fared better during the outbreak, but were in a unique position—poised to remain fully operational while their competitors were busy shuffling their operations and struggling to adapt to the new, more digital work environment.
Thus, the ideal solution for avoiding any detrimental results from the current global pandemic or other major global disruptions seems to be the implementation of an increasing number of distant workers or remote service providers. While there may be some hiccups in terms of logistics given the current need for hands-on operations, there can be little doubt that ultimately, the technological revolution and automation will reduce even these obstacles. In this manner, they will be more fully adaptive in times such as the present, when more traditional warehouse or office-based operations are being closed down or otherwise hindered, reducing production.
According to reports posted on Statista, the automation of logistical support was one of the top areas of investment in 2019, and 45.1 percent of respondents have invested heavily in warehouse automation, coming in second only behind cloud-based automation systems for logistical support. It was further noted by Statista that “In 2019, supply chain and logistics technology companies received funding of up to 15.68 billion United States dollars. The financing of technology deals in all retail areas amounted to 45.25 billion United States dollars that year.” In short, the automation of logistical supply chain support and for the distribution of medical devices at both the domestic and international levels will soon be a moot point, not capable of adversely impacting operations within the medical device manufacturing sector.
Which Tasks Are Best Suited to Outsourcing/Remote Service Providers?
A Fast Company article reporting on the increased production of remote services providers and promoting “Remote Year” noted, “Most people will see that it is very possible and start to grow accustomed to the benefits of [remote work], including autonomy, no commute, and fewer distractions than open offices. Companies that don’t allow remote work already are going to have to continue supporting it going forward, now that they have proven to themselves that it works.”
It was further noted “Their March 2019 findings showed that 80% of job seekers would choose a job with a flexible work-from-home policy over one that doesn’t offer the same benefit.” So what are some of the more traditional office jobs that can be outsourced or otherwise staffed by remote service providers and telecommuting employees?
While larger medical device manufacturers will likely have in-house accounting departments, many smaller firms will outsource this work to third-party accounting firms. The good news is even for those medical device manufacturers that have entire departments to handle accounting, most of this work can be completed via telecommuting employees working from home.
There will still be a need to maintain a minimal staff within an active office environment, though the requirements will be greatly reduced. A comptroller or head accountant may still be office-based, and there should be someone within the office to scan, send, and receive all of the relevant documentation, but by and large, all of these employees may be free to work from remote locations.
Information Technology (IT) Departments
IT departments are another area rife with opportunity for being largely maintained and operated by remote service providers. The use of VPN (virtual private network) on Intranets will allow most of the maintenance and operations of vital infrastructure to be kept fully operational through telecommuting positions or even outsourced to third-party remote service providers.
Again, there may be some need to maintain a limited number of personnel within an office environment, most notably when the computer server racks are maintained in house. Even this part of operations can often be outsourced to third-party remote service providers in order to further reduce the level of in-house employees and even operational expenses.
Language Services (i.e., Medical Translation Services)
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has a number of mandatory requirements for the establishment of the informational materials supplied along with medical devices manufactured for export. The European Union has similar policies (e.g., Active Implantable Medical Device Directive (AIMDD 90/385/ EEC), the In Vitro Diagnostic Directive (IVDD 98/79/EC), the Medical Device Directive (MDD 93/42/EEC), and various others). These are all requirements that mandate for the complete and accurate translation of medical device manuals, operational procedures, and all relevant documents.
During normal operations, smaller medical device manufacturers may only be exporting to one or two nations and may have in-house language service providers capable of handling all of the relevant document translation services. During times of a global medical crisis such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it may very well be that business increases in line with the more pressing global demand for medical devices, often leading to additional requirements for language service providers and document translation services.
The good news is there are a great many options for finding a translation agency or third-party language services provider. These translation agencies should, however, be well-vetted in order to guarantee they can both provide the requisite documentation translation services while, at the same time, localizing the medical devices and the documentation along with any additional localization services.
A translation agency that specializes in localization should also offer the ability to provide translation services in all of the languages necessary to ensure full compliance with the relevant legal restrictions and document translation services for the import and export of medical devices, their manuals, and other documentation.
With all of these operations, however, the question of how to monitor both remote service providers and telecommuting employees emerges. This is not always a great concern when outsourcing services to third-party companies, but may prove initially challenging for telecommuting employees and independent remote service providers. Fortunately, there is a viable solution.
Translating Telecommuting into Increased Employee Efficiency
There is some concern over employees taking advantage of their newfound freedom working as remote service providers or working from home. Fortunately, there are a great many tools already commonly in use for this purpose. The final selection of monitoring tools for employees working from home will depend on the needs of the company and the amount of monitoring required.
Tthe most popular programs for monitoring applications include Time Doctor, Clockify, Qbserve, and ManicTime, alongside a host of others. Some of these remote employee tracking programs are limited to recording the time the employee working from home is online, while others will track computer usage, programs, and apps being used and even take screenshots or shots from the employee webcam if desired. The level of tracking will vary depending on the needs of both the employer and the compliance of those remote service providers being tracked.
Translating Remote Service Providers into Increased Profits
According to a study by The Hill regarding employees working from home, medical device manufac-turers would save roughly $11,000 per year for each employee working from home. Add in the increased savings from outsourcing to third-party remote service providers and these numbers quickly become substantial savings that can then be converted into additional marketing or even increased profit margins for the company.
The medical device manufacturer need not purchase expensive new office equipment for remote service providers. Neither will these employees be using utilities within the office, reducing the operating and maintenance costs. There will be less need for office space, allowing the medical device manufacturers to maintain smaller, more inexpensive facilities for operations. There are even potential reductions in income and other tax liabilities depending on the location of the company.
The Bottom Line
It may take some research and perhaps even some testing and adapting before outsourcing and telecommuting are perfected and increase productivity for the medical device manufacturer. However, once this initial feat has been accomplished, the manufacturer will be in a much better position not only to survive the next great medical crisis, but to be in a position to gain even as their competitors remain struggling to adapt yet again in an uncertain environment for which they are not yet prepared.
Thus, the ultimate focus for those within the medical device manufacturing industry needs to be placed on the ability to maintain a higher focus on the addition of remote service providers and telecommuting within as many areas of operations as possible. We can apply this notion to all industries (to an extent) as there is a definitive need for the implementation of defensive measures in order to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of operations, especially during times of a global medical crisis such as this one. In the end, the fact outsourcing and remote work could not only increase efficiency and production but potentially profits as well is merely an added benefit.
Ofer Tirosh is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Tomedes, a language service provider. He is also a renowned speaker on globalization through localization. His translation agency provides translation, interpretation, and localization services in over one hundred languages to clients around the world.