December 21, 2023

KFF Well being Information: Deep Flaws in FDA Oversight of Medical Units, and Affected person Hurt, Uncovered in Lawsuits and Information

Residing with diabetes, Carlton “PeeWee” Gautney Jr. relied on a digital machine in regards to the dimension of a deck of enjoying playing cards to pump insulin into his bloodstream.

The pump, manufactured by machine maker Medtronic, related plastic tubing to an insulin reservoir, which Gautney set to launch doses of the very important hormone over the course of the day. Gautney, a bike fanatic, labored as a dispatcher with the police division in Opp, Alabama.

The 59-year-old died instantly on Might 17, 2020, as a result of — his household believes — the pump malfunctioned and delivered a deadly overdose of insulin.

“There’s a giant gap left the place he was,” mentioned Gautney’s daughter, Carla Wiggins, who’s suing the producer. “An enormous a part of me is lacking.”

The wrongful-death lawsuit alleges the pump was “faulty and unreasonably harmful.” Medtronic has denied the pump brought about Gautney’s loss of life and filed a court docket movement for abstract judgment, which is pending.

The pump Gautney relied on was amongst greater than 400,000 Medtronic gadgets recalled, beginning in November 2019, after the corporate mentioned in a recall discover that harm to a retainer ring on the pump may “result in an over or underneath supply of insulin,” which may “be life threatening or could lead to loss of life.”

Because the recall performed out, federal regulators found that Medtronic had delayed performing — and warning sufferers of potential hazards with the pumps — regardless of amassing tens of 1000’s of complaints in regards to the rings, authorities information present.

Over the previous 12 months, KFF Well being Information has investigated medical device malfunctions together with:

  • Synthetic knees manufactured by a Gainesville, Florida, firm that remained on the market for more than 15 years regardless of packaging points that the company said may have brought about greater than 140,000 of the implants to wear down prematurely.
  • Metallic hip implants that snapped in two inside sufferers who mentioned in lawsuits that they required pressing surgical procedure.
  • Final-resort heart pumps that FDA information state could have brought about or contributed to 1000’s of affected person deaths.
  • And even a dental machine, used on sufferers with out FDA evaluation, that lawsuits alleged has brought about catastrophic hurt to tooth and jawbones. CBS Information co-reported and aired TV tales in regards to the hip and dental gadgets.

The investigation has discovered that almost all medical gadgets, together with many implants, are actually cleared on the market by the FDA with out exams for security or effectiveness. As an alternative, producers should merely present they’ve “substantial equivalence” to a product already within the market — an approval course of some consultants view as vastly overused and fraught with dangers.

“Sufferers consider they’re getting an implant that’s been confirmed secure,” mentioned Joshua Sharlin, a former FDA official who now’s a marketing consultant and skilled witness in drug and medical machine regulation. “No, it hasn’t,” Sharlin mentioned.

And as soon as these gadgets attain {the marketplace}, the FDA struggles to trace malfunctions, together with deaths and accidents — whereas injured sufferers face authorized obstacles making an attempt to carry producers accountable for product defects.

In a press release to KFF Well being Information, the FDA mentioned it “has a scientifically rigorous course of to guage the protection and effectiveness of medical gadgets.”

‘Too Little, Too Late’

The FDA permitted the MiniMed 670G insulin pump on Sept. 28, 2016, after its most stringent security evaluation, a little-used course of often called premarket approval.

In a news release that day, Jeffrey Shuren, who directs the FDA’s Middle for Units and Radiological Well being, lauded the machine as a “first-of-its-kind expertise” that may give sufferers “larger freedom to reside their lives” and to observe and dispense insulin as wanted. The pump was examined on 123 sufferers in a scientific trial over a number of months with “no critical adversarial occasions,” the discharge mentioned. Shuren declined to be interviewed.

The FDA’s enthusiasm didn’t final. In November 2019, Medtronic, citing the ring downside, launched an “urgent medical device recall” of the pumps, which it expanded in late 2021.

Throughout an inspection at Medtronic’s plant in Northridge, California, FDA officers discovered the corporate had logged greater than 74,000 ring complaints between 2016 and the November 2019 recall. Greater than 800 complaints weren’t investigated in any respect, based on the FDA, which sharply criticized the corporate in a December 2021 warning letter.

Medtronic is going through greater than 60 lawsuits filed by injured sufferers and their households and the corporate believes it might be hit with claims for damages from 1000’s extra sufferers, the corporate disclosed in an August Securities and Alternate Fee submitting.

Medtronic pumps that allegedly disbursed an excessive amount of, or too little, insulin have been blamed for contributing to a minimum of a dozen affected person deaths, based on lawsuits filed since 2019. Some instances have been settled underneath confidential phrases, whereas others are pending or have been dismissed. Medtronic has denied any accountability in response to the lawsuits.

In a single pending case, a Las Vegas man utilizing the pump allegedly fell into an “insulin-induced coma” that led to his loss of life in 2020. In one other 2020 case, a 67-year-old New Jersey resident collapsed at her residence, dying later the identical day at an area hospital.

The recall discover Medtronic despatched to a 43-year-old Missouri man’s residence arrived a number of days after police discovered him lifeless on his bed room flooring, his household alleged in a lawsuit filed in August. “Just too little, too late,” the go well with reads. The case is pending, and Medtronic has but to file a solution in court docket.

Medtronic declined to reply written questions from KFF Well being Information in regards to the pumps and court docket instances. In an emailed assertion, the corporate mentioned it changed pump rings with new ones “redesigned to scale back the danger of injury” and “fulfilled all pump substitute requests for free of charge to clients.”

In April, Medtronic announced that the FDA had lifted the warning letter a number of days after it approved a new version of the MiniMed pump system.

Shortcut to Market

The 1976 federal legislation that mandated security testing for high-risk medical gadgets additionally created a far simpler — and more cost effective — pathway to {the marketplace}. This course of, often called a 510(okay) clearance, requires producers to indicate a brand new machine they plan to promote has “substantial equivalence” to 1 already in the marketplace, even when the prior product has been recalled.

Critics have anxious for years that the 510(okay)-approval situation is just too industry-friendly to guard sufferers from hurt.

In July 2011, an Institute of Medicine report concluded that 510(okay) was “not meant to guage the protection and effectiveness of medical gadgets” and mentioned “a transfer away from the 510(okay) clearance course of ought to happen as quickly as fairly potential.”

Greater than a decade later, that hasn’t occurred, even amid mounting controversy over the clearance of tons of of gadgets that make use of synthetic intelligence.

The FDA now clears about 3,000 low- to moderate-risk gadgets yearly by 510(okay) evaluation, which prices the machine maker a normal FDA payment of about $22,000. That compares with about 30 approvals a 12 months by the stricter premarketing necessities, which value practically $500,000 per machine, based on FDA knowledge. Diana Zuckerman, president of the Nationwide Middle for Well being Analysis, mentioned even many medical doctors don’t notice gadgets cleared on the market usually haven’t undergone scientific trials to ascertain their security.

“Docs are shocked to be taught this,” she mentioned. “Sufferers aren’t going to comprehend it when their medical doctors don’t.”


Approximate variety of low- to moderate-risk gadgets cleared yearly by 510(okay).


Approximate variety of gadgets receiving authentic approval from the FDA annually by stricter premarketing necessities.

In response to written questions from KFF Well being Information, the FDA mentioned it “continues to consider within the deserves of the 510(okay) program and can proceed to work to establish program enhancements that strengthen the protection and effectiveness of 510(okay) cleared gadgets.” The FDA retains a good lid on knowledge displaying which gadgets producers select to reveal substantial equivalence — what the company refers to as “predicate” gadgets.

“We will’t get detailed knowledge,” mentioned Sandra Rothenberg, a researcher on the Rochester Institute of Expertise. “It’s very onerous for researchers to find out the idea on which substantial equivalence is being made and to investigate if there are issues.”

Rothenberg cited the historical past of “metal-on-metal” synthetic hip implants, which underneath 510(okay) spawned many new manufacturers — together with a disastrous toll of affected person accidents. The implants may launch steel particles that broken bone and led to untimely removing and substitute, a painful operation. Simply 4 of those hip gadgets have been the goal of greater than 25,000 lawsuits in search of damages, court docket information present. In early 2016, the FDA issued an order requiring security testing earlier than approving new metal-on-metal hip gadgets.

Alarm Bells

Two former Medtronic gross sales executives in California argue in a whistleblower lawsuit that the 510(okay) course of might be abused.

In keeping with the whistleblowers, the FDA permitted the Puritan Bennett 980, or PB 980, ventilator in 2014 primarily based on the assertion it was considerably equal to the PB 840, an earlier mechanical ventilator lengthy seen because the workhorse of the {industry}.

Medtronic’s subsidiary firm Covidien made its declare although the machine has fully totally different “guts” and operates utilizing software program and different “considerably totally different” mechanisms, based on the whistleblowers’ go well with.

In response, Medtronic mentioned it “believes the allegations are with out benefit and has moved to dismiss the case.” The case is pending.

The whistleblowers argue the PB 980 ventilator was stricken by harmful malfunctions for years earlier than its recall in late 2021.

One ventilator billowed smoke in an intensive care unit whereas the whistleblowers had been advised by one hospital that “the wheels for the ventilator cart may very well fall off the ventilator throughout transport,” based on the go well with.

Batteries may die with out warning, kicking off a scramble to maintain sufferers alive; monitor screens froze up repeatedly or in any other case went on the blink; and, in a number of instances, alarm bells warning of a affected person emergency rang repeatedly and may very well be quieted solely by unplugging the unit from the wall socket and pulling out its batteries, based on the go well with.

The December 2021 recall of the PB 980 cited a “manufacturing meeting error” that the corporate mentioned could trigger the ventilator to grow to be “inoperable.”

Medtronic mentioned in an e mail that the ventilator “has helped 1000’s of sufferers world wide,” together with enjoying a “essential position within the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Late Warnings

The FDA operates a large database, called MAUDE, to alert regulators and the general public to rising machine risks. The FDA requires producers to advise the company after they be taught their machine could have brought about or contributed to a loss of life or critical damage, or malfunctioned in a means that may recur and trigger hurt. These experiences should be submitted inside 30 days except a particular exemption is granted.

However FDA officers acknowledge that many critical adversarial occasions go unreported — simply what number of is anyone’s guess.

Since 2010, the FDA has cited firms greater than 5,000 occasions for not dealing with, reviewing, or investigating complaints correctly, or for not reporting adversarial occasions on time. For example, the FDA cited an Ohio firm that made electrical beds and different gadgets greater than 15 occasions for failing to correctly scrutinize complaints or report adversarial occasions, together with the loss of life of a affected person who allegedly grew to become trapped between a bedrail and mattress, company information present.

In about 10% of experiences, greater than a 12 months or two elapsed from when a loss of life or critical damage occurred and when the FDA obtained the experiences, a KFF Well being Information evaluation discovered. That works out to just about 60,000 delayed experiences a 12 months.

Specialists and lawmakers say the FDA must discover a strategy to detect security issues faster.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have tried for years to steer the company so as to add distinctive machine identifiers to Medicare cost declare types to assist monitor merchandise that fail. In an e mail assertion to KFF Well being Information, Grassley referred to as {that a} “commonsense step we are able to take up entrance to mitigate danger, enhance certainty and get monetary savings later.”


Approximate variety of experiences through which greater than a 12 months or two elapsed from when a loss of life or critical damage occurred to when the FDA obtained the experiences

The FDA mentioned it’s working to “strike the correct stability between assuring security and fostering machine innovation and affected person entry.” But it famous: “Extra assets are required to ascertain a completely functioning energetic surveillance system for medical gadgets.” For now, injured sufferers suing machine firms usually cite the amount of adversarial occasion experiences to MAUDE, or FDA citations for failing to report them, to bolster claims that the corporate knew about product malfunctions however didn’t right them.

In a single case, a New York man is suing producer Boston Scientific, claiming accidents from a tool referred to as the AMS 800 that’s used to deal with stress urinary incontinence.

Although Boston Scientific says on its web site that 200,000 males have been handled efficiently, the lawsuit argues complaints piled up in MAUDE 12 months after 12 months and no motion was taken — by the corporate or by regulators.

The variety of complaints filed soared from six in 2016 to 2,753 in 2019, based on the go well with. By far, the most important class concerned incontinence, the situation the machine was supposed to repair, based on the go well with. Boston Scientific didn’t reply to a request for remark. The corporate has filed a movement to dismiss the case, which is pending.

By the FDA’s personal rely, greater than 57,000 of some 74,000 complaints Medtronic obtained in regards to the MiniMed insulin pump’s retainer rings had been reported to the company. The FDA mentioned the complaints “had been a part of the data that led to the compliance actions.” The company mentioned it “approved design and manufacturing changes to the retainer ring to right this difficulty” and “has reviewed data confirming the effectiveness of the modification.”

“What’s the threshold for the FDA to step in and do one thing?” mentioned Mara Schwartz, who’s a nurse, diabetes educator, and pump consumer. “What number of deaths or adversarial occasions does there need to be?”

In 2020, she sued Medtronic, alleging she suffered seizures when the pump mistakenly delivered an overdose of insulin. Medtronic denied her claims, and the case has since been settled underneath confidential phrases.

Non-public Eyes

Some nations don’t belief the machine {industry} to play such a key position in oversight.

Australia and a couple of dozen different nations keep registries that measure the efficiency of medical gadgets in opposition to rivals, with a watch towards not paying for take care of a substandard machine.

That’s not more likely to occur in the US, the place no machine or drug producer should reveal its new product is healthier than what’s already on the market.

Product legal responsibility lawsuits within the U.S. usually cite troubling findings from abroad. For example, registries in Australia and different nations pinpointed sturdiness issues with the Optetrak knee implants manufactured by Florida machine firm Exactech years earlier than a serious recall. Exactech has declined remark.

The Australian surveillance community additionally detected deficiencies with the Medtronic PB 980 ventilator, prompting the nation’s well being authority to droop its use for six months till Medtronic accomplished coaching for well being care employees and took different steps to enhance it, court docket information present. Medtronic advised KFF Well being Information that it had “labored carefully” with the Australian group to resolve the issues. “We take affected person security very significantly and have processes to establish high quality points and decide applicable actions,” Medtronic mentioned.

Registries have gained some traction in America. However to date, they usually have been managed, and generally funded, by {industry} and medical specialty teams that share their findings solely with medical doctors.

One non-public registry managed by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, called Intermacs, tracks loss of life and damage charges at 180 hospitals in the US licensed to implant a mechanical coronary heart pump often called an LVAD. Some sufferers would possibly discover that data useful, but it surely’s not accessible to them.

‘Thrilling Options’

Whereas the FDA clears 1000’s of gadgets to be used primarily based on the “substantial equivalence” premise, producers usually tout “new and thrilling options” of their promoting and different advertising, mentioned Alexander Everhart, a researcher on the Washington College College of Drugs in St. Louis.

These advertising campaigns have lengthy been controversial, particularly after they rely partly on wining and eating surgeons and different medical professionals to realize new enterprise, or when surgeons have monetary ties to producers whose merchandise they use. Orthopedic machine makers have funneled billions of dollars to surgeons, together with charges for consulting, doing medical analysis, or royalties for his or her position in fine-tuning surgical instruments and methods, even selling the merchandise to their friends.

Advertising campaigns directed at potential sufferers could obtain little scrutiny. The FDA has “restricted assets to actively monitor the amount of direct-to-consumer promoting,” based on a Government Accountability Office report issued in September. From 2018 to 2022, the FDA took 255 enforcement actions involving promoting claims made for gadgets, based on the GAO report.

Authorized Obstacles

Whereas producers can promote gadgets on to sufferers, courts could not maintain them accountable for speaking potential dangers to sufferers.

Think about the case of Richard Greisberg, a retired electronics enterprise proprietor in New Jersey. He sued Boston Scientific in 2019, years after having a Greenfield vena cava filter implanted. The machine is meant to forestall blood clots that develop within the decrease physique from touring into the lungs, which might be lethal.

Greisberg argued that the machine had migrated in his physique, inflicting ache and different signs and harm that took years to establish. Representing himself in court docket, he tried to argue that no person had advised him that would occur and that if they’d executed so he wouldn’t have agreed to the process.

He misplaced when the choose cited a authorized doctrine referred to as “discovered middleman.” The doctrine, which is acknowledged in lots of states, holds that producers should warn solely physicians, who’re presumed to have the information to know a medical machine’s dangers and relay them to sufferers.

The court docket dominated {that a} 27-page guide the producer despatched to the doctor who implanted it, which included particulars about potential dangers, was satisfactory and tossed the case.

Greisberg, 81, felt sucker-punched. “They by no means gave me any warning about what may occur down the street,” he mentioned in an interview. “I by no means had an opportunity to have my day in court docket.”

The household of PeeWee Gautney additionally faces challenges pursuing the insulin pump lawsuit.

Gautney died in a motel room in Destin, Florida, a day after using his Harley-Davidson to the Panhandle seaside city on a weekend jaunt. The MiniMed pump was nonetheless strapped to his physique, based on a police report.

Medtronic had despatched Gautney a type letter in late March 2020, lower than two months earlier than he died, advising him to verify the ring was locking in place accurately. Every week later, he wrote again, telling the corporate: “It’s high quality proper now,” court docket information present.

Wiggins, 33, his daughter, who can be a neonatal respiratory therapist, mentioned she believes a crack within the retainer ring brought about it to launch an excessive amount of insulin, which her dad could not have acknowledged.

“It ought to by no means be placed on the affected person to find out if there’s a downside,” Wiggins mentioned.

Medtronic has denied the pump failed and brought about Gautney’s loss of life. The FDA permitted the machine figuring out sufferers confronted the danger of it administering fallacious doses, however believed the advantages outweighed these dangers, Medtronic argued in a movement for abstract judgment in September. The movement is pending.

Medtronic additionally cited a authorized doctrine holding that Congress granted the FDA sole oversight authority over gadgets receiving premarket approval, which preempts any product defect claims introduced underneath state legal guidelines. Producers have drawn on the preemption protection to sidestep legal responsibility for affected person accidents, and sometimes win dismissal, although federal courts are break up in making use of the doctrine.

Wiggins hopes to beat these odds, arguing that the December 2021 FDA warning letter reveals that Medtronic violated security and manufacturing requirements.

Her lawyer, Scott Murphy, mentioned that insulin pumps are “actually fantastic” gadgets for folks with diabetes after they work proper. He argues that the FDA information affirm that Medtronic considerably downplayed its pump’s hazards.

“The dangers get minimized and the advantages exaggerated,” he mentioned.

By Fred Schulte and Holly K. Hacker

Initially revealed December 21, 2023

KFF Health News is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points and is likely one of the core working packages at KFF—an unbiased supply of well being coverage analysis, polling, and journalism. Be taught extra about KFF.


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