FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced in a tweet Wednesday that the agency plans to release hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of previously unpublished injury and malfunction reports tied to about 100 medical devices.
"We're now prioritizing making ALL of this data available," Gottlieb tweeted.
This is an old database where historical information wasn't easily accessible electronically owing to the system's age. But it's imperative that all safety information be available to the public. We're now prioritizing making ALL of this data available. https://t.co/T1c3qQQQ3E
-; Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) March 27, 2019
A recent Kaiser Health News investigation revealed the scope of a hidden reporting pathway for device makers, with the agency accepting more than 1.1 million such reports since the start of 2016.
Device makers for nearly 20 years were able to quietly seek an "exemption" from standard, public harm-reporting rules. Devices with such exemptions have included surgical staplers and balloon pumps used in the vessels of heart-surgery patients.
Gottlieb's tweet also referenced the challenge in opening the database, saying it "wasn’t easily accessible electronically owing to the system’s age. But it’s imperative that all safety information be available to the public."
The agency made changes to the "alternative summary reporting" program in mid-2017 to require a public report summarizing data filed within the FDA. But nearly two decades of data remained cordoned off from doctors, patients and device-safety researchers who say they could use it to detect problems.
Gottlieb's announcement was welcomed by Madris Tomes, who has testified to FDA device-review panels about the importance of making summary data on patient harm open to the public.
"That's the best news I've heard in years," said Tomes, president of Device Events, which makes the FDA device-harm data more user-friendly. "I'm really happy that they're taking notice and realizing that physicians who couldn't see this data before were using devices that they wouldn't have used if they had this data in front of them."
Since September, KHN has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for parts or all of the "alternative summary reporting" database and for other special "exemption" reports, to little effect. A request to expedite delivery of those records was denied, and the FDA cited the lack of "compelling need" for the public to have the information. Officials noted that it might take up to two years to get such records through the FOIA process.
As recently as Friday, though, the agency began publishing previously undisclosed reports of harm, suddenly updating the numbers of breast implant malfunctions or injuries submitted over the years. The new data was presented to an FDA advisory panel, which is reviewing the safety of such devices. The panel, which met Monday and Tuesday, saw a chart showing hundreds of thousands more accounts of harm or malfunctions than had previously been acknowledged.
Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's health research group, said his initial reaction to the news is "better late than never."
"If [Gottlieb] follows through with his pledge to make all this data public, then that's certainly a positive development," he said. "But this is safety information that should have been made available years ago."
This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.