How Does the FDA Classify Medical Devices?

In accordance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, FDA places all medical devices into one of three regulatory classes based on:

(a) the level of control necessary to ensure safety; and

(b) effectiveness of the device.

Classification is risk based, that is, the risk the device poses to the patient and/or the user is a major factor in determining the class to which it is assigned.

Devices in all three classes are subject to general controls which require, in part, that companies:

(1) register their establishments and list the medical devices they market with FDA;

(2) manufacture their devices in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practices; and

(3) label their devices in accordance with labeling regulations.

Class I devices are subject only to general controls. They typically present the lowest potential for harm and are simpler in design than Class II or Class III devices.

Examples of Class I devices include elastic bandages, examination gloves, and hand-held surgical instruments.

Class II devices are those for which general controls alone are insufficient to provide a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness. In addition to complying with general controls, Class II devices are also subject to special controls identified by the agency, which may include special labeling requirements, performance standards and postmarket surveillance.

Examples of Class II devices include powered wheelchairs, infusion pumps, and surgical drapes.

Class III devices generally are those for which insufficient information exists to determine that general or special controls are sufficient to provide a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness.

Examples of Class III devices include replacement heart valves, silicone gel-filled breast implants, and implanted cerebellar stimulators.