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Is Your Software a Medical Device? FDA Issues Six Digital Health Guidance Documents

The 21st Century Cures Act, enacted in December 2016, amended the definition of “medical device” in section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) to exclude five distinct categories of software or digital health products. In response, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new digital health guidance and revised several pre-existing medical device guidance documents. FDA also stated that it would continue to assess how to update and revise these guidance documents as its thinking evolved.

Late last week, FDA issued five final guidance documents and re-issued a draft guidance document to better reflect FDA’s current thinking on software as a medical device (SaMD) and other digital health products:

Most of the guidance documents reflect modest changes to prior draft guidance documents that describe categories of low-risk health and wellness devices that FDA does not intend to regulate. FDA’s new draft Clinical Decision Support (CDS) Software guidance, however, provides a new and more detailed analysis of risk factors that FDA will apply to determine whether a CDS tool is a medical device. FDA updated its previously issued draft CDS guidance without finalizing it. Although the new guidance does not explain why FDA is reissuing the CDS guidance in draft, the new draft guidance seems to reflect the agency’s attempt to better align its definition of non-device software with the often misunderstood and misinterpreted statutory definition of CDS in section 520(o)(1)(E) of the Cures Act. The chart below summarizes the key provisions and changes to these guidance documents.

Digital health products can present a particular challenge for developers and regulators in assessing the appropriate regulatory pathways for a new product. The updated guidance documents reflect the need for a more flexible, risk-based approach to regulation that accommodates a rapidly evolving technological landscape. These documents also reflect what appears to be the new normal for digital health regulation—the need for iterative thinking and ongoing revisions to interpretive guidance documents to keep pace with a constantly changing marketplace.

Click here to read the full client alert on this issue. 




FDA’s Breakthrough Device Program: Opportunities and Challenges for Device Developers

As part of the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to establish a Breakthrough Devices Program intended to expedite the development and prioritize the review of certain medical devices that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating disease or conditions. In December 2018, FDA issued a guidance document describing policies FDA intends to use to implement the Program.

There are two criteria for inclusion in the Breakthrough Device Program:

  1. The device must provide for a more effective treatment or diagnosis of a life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating human disease or condition; and
  2. The device must (i) represent breakthrough technology, (ii) have no approved or cleared alternatives, (iii) offer significant advantages over existing approved or cleared alternatives, or (iv) demonstrate that its availability is in the best interest of patients.

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Digital Health in the UK: The New Regulatory Environment Under the Medical Device Regulation

Investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health technologies has increased exponentially over the last few years. In the United Kingdom, the excitement and interest in this space has been supported by NHS policies, including proposals in the NHS Long Term Plan, which set out ambitious aims for the acceleration and adoption of digital health and AI, particularly in primary care, outpatients and wearable devices.

Although these developments are encouraging to developers, there is still no clear framework for reimbursement or tariffs for digital health tools and AI.

At the same time, the plethora of new technologies has led to increased calls for regulation and oversight, particularly around data quality and evaluation. Many of these concerns may be addressed by the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR) and other regulatory developments. In fact, there is some risk that while regulatory landscape is moving quickly, the pricing environment is still a way behind.

In May 2020, the new MDR will change the law and process of certification for medical software. The new law includes significant changes for digital health technologies which are medical devices. In March 2019, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also published a new evidence standards framework for digital health technologies. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) already regulates online provision of health care, and there are calls for wider and greater regulation. The government has also published a code on the use of data in AI.

Digital Health Technologies and the MDR

The new MDR will mean a significant change to the regulatory framework for medical devices in the European Union.

As with the previous law, the MDR regulates devices through a classification system.

The new regime introduces new rules for medical software that falls within the definition of device. This will mean significant changes for companies that develop or offer medical software solutions, especially if their current certification has been “up-classed” under the MDR.

Key Takeaways for Investors in Digital Health Tools

Companies and investors in digital health should:
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Government Issues New Tool to Help Mobile App Developers Identify Applicable Federal Laws

This week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC or Commission) released an interactive tool (entitled the “Mobile Health Apps Interactive Tool”) that is intended to help developers identify the federal law(s) that apply to apps that collect, create and share consumer information, including health information. The interactive series of questions and answers augments and cross-references existing guidance from the US Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) that helps individuals and entities—including app developers—understand when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and its rules may apply.  The tool is also intended to help developers determine whether their app is subject to regulation as a medical device by the FDA, or subject to certain requirements under the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act) or the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule. The Commission developed the tool in conjunction with HHS, FDA and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Based on the user’s response to ten questions, the tool helps developers determine if HIPAA, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), FTC Act and/or the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule apply to their app(s). Where appropriate based on the developer’s response to a particular question, the tool provides a short synopsis of the potentially applicable law and links to additional information from the appropriate federal government regulator.

The first four questions cover a developer’s potential obligations under HIPAA. The first question explores whether an app creates, receives, maintains or transmits individually identifiable health information, such as an IP address. Developers may use the tool’s second, third and fourth questions to assess whether they are a covered entity or a business associate under HIPAA. The tool’s fifth, sixth and seventh questions help developers establish whether their app may be a medical device that the FDA has chosen to regulate.  The final three questions are intended to help users assess the extent to which the developer is subject to regulation by the FTC.

Although the tool provides helpful, straightforward guidance, users will likely need a working knowledge of relevant regulatory principles to successfully use the tool.  For example, the tool asks the user to identify whether the app is “intended for use” for diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or disease prevention, but does not provide any information regarding the types of evidence that the FDA would consider to identify a product’s intended use or the intended use of a mobile app (e.g., statements made by the developer in advertising or oral or written statements). In addition, how specifically an app will be offered to individuals to be used in coordination with their physicians can be dispositive of the HIPAA analysis in ways that are not necessarily intuitive.

The tool provides a starting point for developers to raise their awareness of potential compliance obligations. It also highlights the need to further explore the three federal laws, implementing rules and their exceptions. Developers must be aware of the tool’s limitations—it does not address state laws and is not intended to provide [...]

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