A quick poll of the audience showed that about half of the companies represented currently outsource some of their operations. Less popular is off-shoring, with only a third putting up their hands. So what’s the difference? Outsourcing is use of an outside company to do some of your operations whereas off-shoring involves moving operations to another country entirely (either within your company or to another organisation). Offshoring exploits the difference in cost bases. Many of us are familiar with off shoring financial helplines in Mumbai or Banglalore.

A variety of medical information operations would lend themselves to outsourcing including enquiries, copy approval, medical writing, patient enquiries to name just some.

There’s never a right time

It’s not necessary to move fast on outsourcing – smaller steps towards the goal can help both parties involved gain exeprience and mitigate risks.

Although there can be significant benefits around budget, headcount and service consistency, outsourcing must be thought through and properly managed. Sophie outlined the risks to the company, customers and medical information team.

Her comprehensive talk sparked much discussion! The first impression can be of staff cutbacks but as Dave Perkins Vice President, Medical Information, Genzyme in the US pointed out to us, it can also protect existing staff. When times are bad, exetrnal services get cut, rather than internal staff providing value-added services. It also forms part of Genzyme’s disaster recovery. When the East Coast of America get hit by bad snow storms, their outsource service on the West Coast is still operational.

No matter what we personally think or feel about the subject, outsourcing is here to stay. However, like any major organisational change, it needs to be thought through and carefully planned. When you face tough times, you first thought should be productivity, not outsourcing! As another delegate put it – outsourcing and off shoring keeps moving further east. Before we know it, it’ll be back right where it started.