Lawmakers Bid to Close Loopholes on Malfunctioning Med Devices


Posted on 15 February 2012

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By JG Preston
Protect Consumer Justice

We have all heard the horror stories. Artificial hips that grind and pop inside the human body. Internal heart defibrillators meant to save lives that instead go haywire and cause harm. Organ pumps that end up performing like a reject fuel-injection system. Woven mesh surgical patches for mending bladder and other organ tears that end up failing.

But now a group of federal lawmakers are stepping up to take on medical device manufacturers and the Food and Drug Administration, the gatekeeper for deciding if such devices go on the market.

A report from Safety Research & Strategies Inc. details how four members of Congress are attempting to tighten the rules that were eased during the Bush Administration to allow medical devices on the market with far less strict review. Some types of devices can now make it to market with no clinical testing or proof of efficacy.

The legislation is being pushed by by Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who all sit on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. A fourth sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), is a member the appropriations committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, the FDA and related agencies.

Meanwhile, Consumers Union has stepped up its efforts to prod Washington to boost oversight. Last week, Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project is bringing eight patient safety activists from around the country to the Capitol to meet with lawmakers in a bid for improvements to the Medical Device User Fee Act (MDUFA).  That act has been the subject of intense scrutiny as problems with various medical devices have continued to make headlines.

“Most Americans would be surprised to learn of the lax oversight of medical implants,” Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project, said in a press release announcing the effort.  “Too many of these devices are allowed on the market without testing to determine whether they are safe and effective. Innovation is important but patient safety should be our first priority. A medical device isn’t innovative if it doesn’t work and hurts people.”

Astonishingly, 90 percent of medical devices do not require proof that they have been clinically tested and found to be safe and effective prior to being cleared by the FDA for distribution or sale, according to Consumers Union. The group is also pushing for a better system to monitor and track devices on the market so problems can be quickly identified and patients alerted.

Among the most notable problems have been among patients who received metal-on-metal replacement hips or hip resurfacing treatments. The group US Drug Watchdog this week launched a campaign designed to identify every US citizen, who is the recipient of any type of metal on metal hip implant device since 2004.

A fact sheet on problems with medical device problems on Consumer Union’s web site also calls on changes so the FDA can to use its recall authority more effectively and for lawmakers to provide the agency with authority to require device makers to do long term post market studies, regardless of which process is used in the pre-market phase.

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J.G. Preston is the Press Secretary at the Consumer Attorneys of California.This article originally appeared on Protect Consumer Justice.