WASHINGTON, DC: Direct-to-consumer ads for medical devices like artificial knees and heart stents were the subject of a Senate Committee hearing yesterday (Wednesday), with lawmakers and medical groups calling for restrictions similar to those applied to the wider pharma industry.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging held the hearing, according to chairman Herb Kohl, to assess if the Food and Drug Administration should increase its oversight of an industry that was “just beginning to get into the game”. 
Among the committee's main concerns is that DTC ads for such products could prove more detrimental to some consumers than those for prescription medication, as medical devices often require surgery, and are then in use for a considerable period of time. 
While medical device ads on TV and the web accounted for just $193 million (€136m; £108m) of spending in 2007 – a tiny fraction of overall pharma outlay – this was nearly double the 2005 total, according to TNS.

Campaigns run over the last three years include those for Stryker's ceramic hip replacement, Zimmer Holdings' replacement knee for women, and Medtronic's heart defibrillators.

David Nexon, of the Advanced Medical Technology Association – which represents medical device makers – argued that the current FDA rules were adequate, and that while ads might mean patients talk to doctors, a full medical assessment was still always required.

He said: “You may take a pill because it doesn't involve very much. But you don't undergo surgery unless you think you have a serious need for it.”

Data sourced from The New York Times; additional content by WARC staff