Sunday, February 15, 2009

Regulatory issues

Regulatory issues are never far from the mind of a biomedical engineer. To satisfy safety regulations, most biomedical systems must have documentation to show that they were managed, designed, built, tested, delivered, and used according to a planned, approved process. This is thought to increase the quality and safety of diagnostics and therapies by reducing the likelihood that needed steps can be accidentally omitted again.
In the United States, biomedical engineers may operate under two different regulatory frameworks. Clinical devices and technologies are generally governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a similar fashion to pharmaceuticals. Biomedical engineers may also develop devices and technologies for consumer use, such as physical therapy devices, which may be governed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. See US FDA 510(k) documentation process for the US government registry of biomedical devices.

Implants, such as artificial hip joints, are generally extensively regulated due to the invasive nature of such devices.
Other countries typically have their own mechanisms for regulation. In Europe, for example, the actual decision about whether a device is suitable is made by the prescribing doctor, and the regulations are to assure that the device operates as expected. Thus in Europe, the governments license certifying agencies, which are for-profit. Technical committees of leading engineers write recommendations which incorporate public comments and are adopted as regulations by the European Union. These recommendations vary by the type of device, and specify tests for safety and efficacy. Once a prototype has passed the tests at a certification lab, and that model is being constructed under the control of a certified quality system, the device is entitled to bear a CE mark, indicating that the device is believed to be safe and reliable when used as directed.
The different regulatory arrangements sometimes result in technologies being developed first for either the U.S. or in Europe depending on the more favorable form of regulation. Most safety-certification systems give equivalent results when applied diligently. Frequently, once one such system is satisfied, satisfying the other requires only paperwork

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