Managing the risks of medical technology: Do hazard surveillance systems provide an early warning of medical device problems?

Gerald Robert Goodman, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for risk assessment and risk management in the post-market surveillance of the U.S. medical device industry. One of the FDA regulatory mechanisms, the Medical Device Reporting System (MDR) is an adverse event reporting system intended to provide the FDA with advance warning of device problems. It includes voluntary reporting for individuals, and mandatory reporting for device manufacturers. In a study of alleged breast implant safety problems, this research examines the organizational processes by which the FDA gathers data on adverse events and uses adverse event reporting systems to assess and manage risk. The research reviews the literature on problem recognition, risk perception, and organizational learning to understand the influence highly publicized events may have on adverse event reporting. Understanding the influence of an environmental factor, such as publicity, on adverse event reporting can provide insight into the question of whether the FDA's adverse event reporting system operates as an early warning system for medical device problems. The research focuses on two main questions. The first question addresses the relationship between publicity and the voluntary and mandatory reporting of adverse events. The second question examines whether government agencies make use of these adverse event reports. Using quantitative and qualitative methods, a longitudinal study was conducted of the number and content of adverse event reports regarding breast implants filed with the FDA's medical device reporting system during 1985–1991. To assess variation in publicity over time, the print media were analyzed to identify articles related to breast implant failures. The exploratory findings suggest that an increase in media activity is related to an increase in voluntary reporting, especially following periods of intense media coverage of the FDA. However, a similar relationship was not found between media activity and manufacturers' mandatory adverse event reporting. A review of government committee and agency reports on the FDA published during 1976–1996 produced little evidence to suggest that publicity or MDR information contributed to problem recognition, agenda setting, or the formulation of policy recommendations. The research findings suggest that the reporting of breast implant problems to FDA may reflect the perceptions and concerns of the reporting groups, a barometer of the volume and content of media attention.

Subject Area

Public health|Surgery

Recommended Citation

Goodman, Gerald Robert, "Managing the risks of medical technology: Do hazard surveillance systems provide an early warning of medical device problems?" (1999). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9929461.