As someone who’s had medical issues ranging from chronic pain to infertility, I’m no stranger to being poked, prodded, given a plethora of prescriptions, and feeling more like an alien abduction than a patient being presented solutions to feel better. Sound familiar?
And why do we subjugate ourselves to being guinea pigs to test which therapies, pills, and mechanical parts will torment our bodies? It’s simple. We’re desperate for help and we trust the men and women in scrubs and suits to honestly want to help us. The FDA’s fast tracked 510(k) process, doctors receiving “gifts” from pharmaceutical companies for prescribing their products, and sky high drug prices are just a few examples of the many parts of the system that are broken at the expense of patient health. Here’s another important flaw with the FDA and Big Pharma: their lack of post-market medical device follow-up.
But why should you take the time to learn about this? Consider these statistics:
- In 2018, medtech (medical technology) stocks climbed 26%.
- About 1.4 million hip and knee replacement surgeries were performed in 2017 alone and the number continues to increase each year.
- The U.S. medical device market was $147.7 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow to $173 billion in 2019.
If you don’t already have a medical device, chances are high that you’ll either have one or you know someone who has one. Plus, this is big money for pharmaceutical companies so a variety of products are probably going to be advertised or recommended to you. Don’t you want to make sure that something this important is proven to help and not harm you?
The FDA’s 510(k) Approval and Post-Market Follow-up Process
The FDA established the 510(k) process to promote medical innovation and approve needed products to market quickly. However, this once “noble” function has now turned into a manipulation of Big Pharma to speed devices to market to for profit and to bypass expensive testing. The 510(k) process allows the FDA to fast-track paperwork through the system as pharmaceutical companies base their devices on previously approved ones… all without human clinical trials.
There are many problems to this practice. First of all, the products that they’re comparing the new one to may have been ineffective or harmful and taken off the market (such as the case involving Protegen transvaginal mesh). Secondly, this is how 70 percent of medical devices are being approved; again, WITHOUT human clinical trials. Is it any wonder why there are so many health complications and recalls concerning medical devices?!? Finally, the FDA is understaffed and underfunded which makes approving, monitoring, and following up on drugs and medical devices a nightmare.
Post market follow-up is critical to patient safety, as the FDA explains that the requirements, “include such things as tracking systems, reporting of device malfunctions, serious injuries or deaths, and registering the establishments where devices are produced or distributed. Postmarket requirements also include postmarket surveillance studies required under section 522 of the act as well as post-approval studies required at the time of approval of a premarket approval (PMA), humanitarian device exemption (HDE), or product development protocol (PDP) application.”
Let’s take a closer look at a recent example that hit the news in March 2019. Mentor Worldwide MemoryShape breast implants were approved in 2013. It came to the FDA’s attention that the company failed to enrol the required number of subjects in the post market study, had poor follow-up rates with patients (only 61 percent), and significant data wasn’t consistent.
These studies are particularly important because in 2016 it was determined that breast implants can cause breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, which is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the immune system). Post-market surveillance could not only ensure the safety of those in the study, but it can provide valuable information to prevent future patients from suffering from this disease.
Post-market surveillance is a critical part of the FDA’s job and public health depends on it. To quickly approve high risk medical devices and neglect monitoring how they work is not only negligent, but it deliberately disregards the health of the millions of patients that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies claim to be helping. It’s time to put patient health first.