The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses 510(k) clearance and premarket approval (PMA) pathways to ensure device safety before marketing. Premarket approval evaluates high-risk medical devices and requires clinical trials, whereas 510(k) clearance evaluates moderate-risk devices and relies on benchtop (nonclinical and biomechanical) and descriptive data. Existing literature suggests that the clinical trials required by PMA are associated with reduced risk of recall compared with devices granted 510(k) clearance. Several investigators have found weaknesses in pivotal PMA trials, raising safety concerns. Furthermore, methodological factors may have led to a previous underestimation of recall risk for devices with PMA.
To compare risk of recall and high-risk recall between devices that received 510(k) clearance and those that received PMA and to compare the risk of recall between devices for medical specialties.
This cohort study compared devices with 510(k) clearance vs those with PMA that reached the market between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2017. Two- to 12-year follow-up was obtained from the FDA’s 510(k) and PMA medical device database. Orthopedic surgery was chosen arbitrarily as the reference category for analysis between specialties because no baseline exists. Statistical analysis was performed from February 1 to November 1, 2020.
The FDA issues recalls for safety concerns. These recalls are stratified into class I, II, and III, with class I representing high-risk issues for serious harm or death. The main outcome was the hazard ratio of any recall and class I recall between devices with PMA and those with 510(k) clearance. The secondary outcome was the recall hazard ratio between specialties with respect to the reference category. A single Cox proportional hazards regression model evaluating the association of medical specialty and FDA approval pathway with the risk of recall was performed.
During the study period, 28 246 devices received 510(k) clearance and 310 devices (10.7%) received PMA; 3012 devices (10.7%) with 510(k) clearance and 84 devices (27.1%) with PMA were recalled. A total of 216 devices (0.8%) with 510(k) clearance and 16 devices (5.2%) with PMA had class I recalls. Devices with PMA compared with those with 510(k) clearance had a hazard ratio for recall of 2.74 (95% CI, 2.19-3.44; P < .001) and a hazard ratio for high-risk recall of 7.30 (95% CI, 4.39-12.13; P < .001). Only radiologic devices were associated with an increased risk of recall (hazard ratio, 1.57; 95% CI, 1.32-1.87; P < .001), whereas 6 specialties were assocated with a decreased risk compared with the orthopedic reference category: general and plastic surgery, otolaryngology, obstetrics and gynecology, physical medicine, hematology, and general hospital.
This study suggests that high-risk medical devices approved via PMA are associated with a greater risk of recall than previously reported. Most recalls are for devices with 510(k) clearance, also raising safety concerns. Strengthening postmarketing surveillance strategies and pivotal trials may improve device safety.

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