FDA Decides Regulating Implantable Defibrillator Medical Devices a "Political Hot Potato"; Demurs

Well, not exactly, but they have decided regulation of another medical device is a political hot potato, and demurred on enforcing regulation:

Health IT.

Health IT are medical devices.

FDA's Chair of the Center for Device and Radiological Health, Jeffrey Shuren, MD JD, stated this explicitly on Feb. 25, 2010 (see testimony to the HHS Health Information Technology HIT Policy Committee at this PDF) that:

... Under the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, [that regulates all drug, medical devices, etc. in the United States - ed.] HIT software is a medical device. Currently, the FDA mandates that manufacturers of other types of software devices comply with the laws and regulations that apply to more traditional medical device firms. These products include devices that contain one or more software components, parts, or accessories (such as electrocardiographic (ECG) systems used to monitor patient activity), as well as devices that are composed solely of software (such as laboratory information management systems).

That leaves no doubt that these are medical devices. However, he also stated:

To date, FDA has largely refrained from enforcing our regulatory requirements with respect to HIT devices.

In other words, this medical device receives special accommodation over all others,such as heart stents, defibrillators, spine and knee implants, etc., all of which have been in the news in recent years for major defects and malfunctions, up to and including causing patient deaths. The extent would have likely been far, far worse had these gadgets been unregulated.

One should ask: why the special accommodation for health IT medical devices? What are the underlying politics, and who is behind them? Especially when FDA is aware of potential risks that may only be the "tip of the iceberg?"

The selective reluctance to enforce the FD&C Act persists to this day. See for example this link regarding his statements just a few days ago here in Philadelphia: Will FDA Regulate EHR's? :

Speaking at the first annual PharmEHR Summit in Philadelphia on April 7, Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the FDA, said his agency could change its traditional hands-off approach to EHRs, but he acknowledged that the potential of FDA regulation raises serious clinical issues [the only clinical issues I can think of are in holding vendors accountable for patient injury - ed.] and is a “political hot potato.” As of right now we’re not regulating EHRs, and it may turn out that we won’t,” he said.

Likely translation: FDA regulation of health IT will never happen.

One implication is that health IT quality, safety, efficacy, privacy, security, and other issues about these systems will remain subject to HHS and industry caprice.

While we're at it, let's deregulate knee implants too...

-- SS

Addendum April 19, 2011:

Roy Poses observes that:

Here is a great example of regulatory capture. The health care IT industry has amassed such political clout that it now has impunity to regulation. Once again, combined economic and political power trumps patients' and the public's health and safety. We will not be able to really reform health care until we can provide for honest, independent health care regulation to uphold patients' and the public's health.

-- SS