Aaron Kesselheim and colleagues conduct a systematic review to examine the strengths and weaknesses associated with approaches to medical device regulation in the US and EU.
Policymakers and regulators in the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are weighing reforms to their medical device approval and post-market surveillance systems. Data may be available that identify strengths and weakness of the approaches to medical device regulation in these settings.
Methods and Findings
We performed a systematic review to find empirical studies evaluating medical device regulation in the US or EU. We searched Medline using two nested categories that included medical devices and glossary terms attributable to the US Food and Drug Administration and the EU, following PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews. We supplemented this search with a review of the US Government Accountability Office online database for reports on US Food and Drug Administration device regulation, consultations with local experts in the field, manual reference mining of selected articles, and Google searches using the same key terms used in the Medline search. We found studies of premarket evaluation and timing (n = 9), studies of device recalls (n = 8), and surveys of device manufacturers (n = 3). These studies provide evidence of quality problems in pre-market submissions in the US, provide conflicting views of device safety based largely on recall data, and relay perceptions of some industry leaders from self-surveys.
Few studies have quantitatively assessed medical device regulation in either the US or EU. Existing studies of US and EU device approval and post-market evaluation performance suggest that policy reforms are necessary for both systems, including improving classification of devices in the US and promoting transparency and post-market oversight in the EU. Assessment of regulatory performance in both settings is limited by lack of data on post-approval safety outcomes. Changes to these device approval and post-marketing systems must be accompanied by ongoing research to ensure that there is better assessment of what works in either setting.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Medical devices—health technologies that are not medicines, vaccines, or clinical procedures—cover a vast range of equipment from the simple to the more complex. Medical devices are essential for patient care, and in the past decade, new devices have offered improved treatment alternatives for many diseases and conditions, leading to substantial growth in the US$350 billion medical device industry. However, new medical devices also pose substantial risks to patients, as shown in recent high-profile product recalls involving breast implants and artificial hip implants.
Why Was This Study Done?
Concerns about the safety of new medical devices have led to calls for greater testing of the safety and effectiveness of new devices before they come on the market and for improved monitoring of their performance after new devices have been approved for use by a regulatory body. In this study, the researchers systematically reviewed evidence about the performance of medical device approval and post-market surveillance systems in two of the most important world markets for medical devices—the United States and the European Union.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers performed a keyword search in Medline (a database of published biomedical literature) for all relevant articles, and supplemented this search with a review of reports on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) device regulation in the US Government Accountability Office's online database. Then they consulted with both US and EU experts and also conducted Google searches to capture reports by management consultant firms. The researchers included only those studies that reported empirical data, either qualitative or quantitative, about the characteristics, performance metrics, or effectiveness of device evaluation or post-market oversight in the US or EU.
Using these methods the researchers identified nine studies that focused on pre-market evaluation and timing, eight studies of device recalls, and three surveys of device manufacturers. Because of the variable quality and lack of outcomes from these studies and reports, the researchers concluded that these studies offered only limited insights into either the US or EU systems. But the available evidence does suggest that in the US, the FDA could improve oversight of device approval, for example, by following up on its commitment to reclassify high-risk medical devices and improve post-market surveillance of devices that are approved on the basis of limited data. The researchers also suggest that using recalls to measure the safety record of individual devices or classes of devices is flawed, as particular devices may be over- or underrepresented in recall data depending on the frequency of their use, design complexity, and the clinical manifestations of malfunction. In the EU, apart from a few studies addressing the timing of approval, the researchers found almost no robust data on device regulation. Some case reports suggested substantial dangers to patients in the EU from devices approved on the basis of limited data, but the researchers could not systematically compare the quality of studies used for device approval or post-approval safety outcomes between the EU and US, mainly because of the lack of transparency among the EU regulators (Notified Bodies).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that few studies have quantitatively assessed medical device regulation in either the US or EU, but the existing studies examined in this review suggest that policy reforms are necessary for both device approval and post-market evaluation of performance, including improving classification of devices in the US and promoting transparency and postmarket oversight in the EU. However, assessment of regulatory performance in both the US and EU is limited by lack of data on post-approval safety outcomes. Any changes to medical device approval and post-marketing systems should be accompanied by ongoing research and evaluation to ensure that there is an improved assessment of what works in either setting.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001276.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Sanket Dhruva and Rita Redberg
The WHO website has a comprehensive topic section on medical devices
Information on medical devices is also available from the FDA and the European Commission