Comparison of rates of safety issues and reporting of trial outcomes for medical devices approved in the European Union and United States: cohort study

BMJ. 2016 Jun 28:353:i3323. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i3323.


Objective: To evaluate safety alerts and recalls, publication of key trial outcomes, and subsequent US approval of high profile medical devices introduced in the European Union.

Design: Cohort study.

Setting: Novel cardiovascular, orthopedic, and neurologic devices approved in the EU through Conformité Européenne marking between 2005 and 2010.

Data sources: Public and commercial databases searched up to January 2016 for press releases and announcements of approvals; public Food and Drug Administration and European regulatory authority databases for US approvals and safety alerts and recalls; and Medline, Embase, and Web of Science for peer reviewed publications.

Main outcome measures: We categorized the novelty of the devices in the study sample as a "major innovation" or an "other change," and extracted descriptive data about the devices and information on any safety alerts and withdrawals. Linear regression models examined factors associated with differential EU and US approvals. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to evaluate factors associated with safety alerts and recalls and the publication of trial outcomes for devices categorized as major innovations. Models controlled for time, therapeutic category, regulatory pathway, size of sponsoring company, and indicator variables for devices approved first in the EU and devices approved only in the EU.

Results: 67% (206/309) of devices identified were approved in both the US and the EU, of which 63% (129/206) were approved first in the EU. The unadjusted rate of safety alerts and recalls for devices approved first in the EU was 27% (62/232) compared with 14% (11/77) for devices approved first in the US. The adjusted hazard ratio for safety alerts and recalls was 2.9 (95% confidence interval 1.4 to 6.2) for devices approved first in the EU. The results of pivotal trials were published for 49% (37/75) of devices categorized as major innovations, with an overall publication rate of 37% five years after approval.

Conclusions: Devices approved first in the EU are associated with an increased risk of post-marketing safety alerts and recalls. Poor trial publication rates mean that patients and clinicians need greater regulatory transparency to make informed decisions about treatment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cohort Studies
  • Consumer Product Safety / standards*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Device Approval*
  • Equipment and Supplies* / classification
  • Equipment and Supplies* / standards
  • Equipment and Supplies* / statistics & numerical data
  • European Union
  • Humans
  • Medical Device Recalls*
  • Therapies, Investigational / instrumentation
  • United States