Instead of acting as a tough federal watchdog that protects and informs patients about problems with medical devices−from heart valves to drug pumps−the federal Food and Drug Administration all too often has served as an industry lap cat offering late, lax oversight in reporting safety woes, a new report finds. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and former agency official Madris Tomes (photo right) deserve credit for blowing the whistle on the gaping bureaucratic loophole that lets device makers report problems almost at their leisure, and to do so in a way that hides issues from public view.
By law, the paper says, makers are supposed to file safety incident reports with the FDA within 30 days of occurrence. But the agency not only fails to enforce that requirement, it has created a process of Orwellian double-speak, allowing “retrospective reporting.” Device makers in this process tell the agency about hundreds of thousands of safety incidents, sometimes years after they occurred. Further, the FDA allows the companies to detail the incidents, in some cases tens of thousands of them, in confidential reports. The only notice the public gets is via terse summaries, “marker reports,” of the much longer documents.
Tomes, since leaving the agency, has created a search engine, Device Events, that helps outsiders track agency information on medical devices’ performance. Using that tool, it still took Star-Tribune reporters almost a year to pry from the FDA information barely hinted at in marker reports.