It may seem a little nitpicky to point out the difference between conformance and compliance, validation and qualification, or even registered and certified. After all, how often is someone going to ask you to correctly define compliance and use it properly in a sentence? Unless your employer exercises their right to hand out pop quizzes, probably never.
Although not really the same thing (but definitely capable of inducing the same sweaty, nervous response), pop quizzes and audits have a knack for identifying various weaknesses. The most important thing is that there is an agreement of terminology among all personnel and a thorough appreciation of the related importance.
So how do you ensure everyone is on the same page? It may be that “clearly” defining terminology in various procedures isn’t enough. For starters, it is important that knowledge and execution begin at the top. How can you expect everyone else to know that FDA regulations are to be complied with rather than conformed to if even the quality assurance department is using the terms interchangeably? By actively using the correct terminology, and by providing guidance on said terminology, a more cohesive quality system can be achieved.
Demonstration of internal knowledge and uniformity is also a priority when it comes to communicating with customers. More than likely customers have an understanding of your quality system, and what better way to show off your capabilities than through flawless execution? It is easy enough to provide certificates that state your lab is “registered” or “accredited”, but more than likely that is the type of information employees should know of the top of their head. When quality assurance sets the tone for defining the parameters of the quality system, it makes important knowledge readily accessible. This goes a long way towards raising a customer’s confidence in your lab’s abilities as well as reinforcing the effectiveness of your internal communication and training.
So what’s in a word, you ask? In this case, that seems to be a loaded question; however, at the root of a lab’s quality system is consistency. If you find it hard to communicate to everyone the importance of one little word, just keep reminding them that some pop quizzes only consist of one question. As with most things related to quality, practice what you preach, lead by example and the rest will fall into place!