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The A to Z of getting medical devices to market

The A to Z of getting medical devices to market

Aging populations with higher life expectancies around the globe are fuelling demand for medical devices. Digitalisation is, furthermore, disrupting the entire health care sector, which is characterised by vast opportunities for established players and new entrants. Getting a medical device to market may seem cumbersome, time-consuming and a little daunting. The process is indeed demanding, but it is intended to ensure that products launched on the market have been properly designed, are safe and reliable. There is a natural temptation to look for shortcuts or alternatives, but this should be avoided. In most cases, such approaches are doomed to cause delays and increase costs further down the road. 

Consider the following scenario: Company A has a great product idea, a product design or even a product prototype. The market is ripe and ready for the product and thoughts of international success are not far from the developers’ minds. 

When considering how to develop and get the product launched, Company A begins to consider whether a medical device classification for the product will result in an unnecessarily expensive and lengthy project. What if competitors use this time to fill the space? Would it not be better to avoid the medical device classification and fast-track development, thereby ensuring success? 

In short, the answer is a resounding NO.

If a device is erroneously classified as serving a purpose other than that of a medical device, and the classification needs to be changed later, the entire process needs to be started from scratch. It makes much more sense to reduce uncertainty by adhering to proper processes. 

There are six steps involved in developing and launching a medical device successfully:

  1. Defining device use and product classification
  2. Medical device’s essential requirements 
  3. User and safety instructions 
  4. Evaluation of compliance with requirements 
  5. CE marking
  6. Registering device and product to market 

Phase 1 – Defining device use and product classification 

In the first phase of getting a medical product to market, the device designer or manufacturer has to define the device use. In practice, this is where the manufacturer decides whether the device is a medical device or not. 

The definition of use also defines the entire process of getting the product to market and, therefore, this phase requires special attention. In Europe, guidelines for defining use are provided in the European Medical Devices Directive 93/42/EEC. 

Once a device has been defined as a medical device, the manufacturer is obliged to classify the device appropriately according to the directive (see Figure 1). The EU’s Medical Devices Info internet pages (http://meddev.info/) are an invaluable resource in this regard, and manufacturers and developers are well advised to make full use of it.

Phase 2 Fulfilling essential requirements of device

The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that the medical device fulfils the essential requirements as set out in the Medical Devices Directive for its intended use. The directive defines which standards are to be adhered to when designing, manufacturing and storing the device. The European commission also maintains and updates these harmonised standards on its web pages. 

By fulfilling the essential requirements, the manufacturer ensures that the device can meet its defined performance levels and does not endanger the lives of patients and users. For this reason, the manufacturer also has to perform a risk analysis of patient and user safety for the device. 

Phase 3 User and safety instructions 

The device or its packaging needs to be labelled with information regarding the manufacturer and safe use. High quality user instructions should also accompany the product. The level of required detail in labelling usually becomes clear when fulfilling the essential requirements of the directive in phase 2. 

In Finland instructions for safe use intended for end users and/or patients are required in both Finnish and Swedish. General user instructions or similar information is required in Finnish, which is to be supplemented with either Swedish or English.

Legislation requires that high quality user instructions are drawn up and provided with medical devices. The proper use and operation of medical devices is essential from the perspective of the patient’s and user’s safety. It is, therefore, imperative that sufficient time and effort is put into drawing up such instructions. 

If necessary, the help of experts with experience in producing high quality instructions should be considered. The quality of instructions is one of the areas the authorities consider when evaluating whether a device complies with the set requirements. 

Phase 4 Evaluation of compliance with requirements

The manufacturer is obliged to draw up technical documentation regarding the fulfilment of essential requirements, as well as about the measures that enable the evaluation of the device’s compliance with requirements. 

A clinical trial should always be conducted in order to verify compliance with requirements. The clinical approximate values define the device features and performance. The results of the risk analysis in phase 2 are also evaluated during the clinical device trial. 

Specific procedures have been set out for different device classifications to prove compliance with the requirements. The provisions for acceptable clinical device trials are set out in national legislation. It is mandatory for all medical devices to undergo clinical trials.

For devices with IIA, IIB and III classifications the evaluation of compliance with requirements can be conducted only by facilities that have been declared by EU country governments. In Finland there are currently two such facilities. 

Phase 5 CE marking

When the compliance with requirements has been evaluated and proven, the manufacturer can attach a CE marking to the device. By attaching the marking the manufacturer confirms that the device fulfils its defined essential requirements. The marking also confirms that the manufacturer accepts responsibility for the design and manufacture of the product. 

Phase 6 Registering device and product to market 

When the first five phases have been completed the manufacturer has to register the device with the appropriate national authorities. In Finland, Valvira (http://www.valvira.fi/) is responsible for maintaining the device register. 

At this stage one can say that the manufacturer has diligently followed the process and taken responsibility for ensuring that the device meets its defined requirements. It also at this stage the product could be considered ready for the market. 

The marketing and launching of the medical device is in itself a challenging project, but if the process described in this article has been followed, the manufacturer can at least feel that all bases have been covered before the actual marketing and launch of the product. 

Author: Kalle Virta

Contact Kalle Virta  

The six-phase process to launching medical devices ensures that the products have been properly designed, are safe and reliable.

Figure 1. Classification of medical devices. Manufacturers are obliged to classify medical devices appropri-ately according to the directive.

The WHO definition of a medical device