On Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver turned his spotlight on the $156 billion medical device market. About 32 million Americans, or one in 10, have some medical device in their bodies, he said.
“Turns out the robot apocalypse was inside us the whole time,” Oliver joked. While medical devices are common, according to Oliver, they aren’t all safe—leading, he says, to 80,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries related to medical devices each year.
The FDA classifies medical devices. While some are “FDA Approved” meaning they are tested in clinical trials, according to Oliver, the majority of such devices merely meet the lower bar of being “FDA cleared” for distribution. (There are other classifications, such as “FDA registered” and “FDA listed.”)
According to Oliver, the phrase “FDA cleared” doesn’t really mean anything. “Like when a cereal says it’s part of a complete breakfast,” he said. “Anything can technically be part of a complete breakfast. If you ingest it alongside oatmeal, granola, yogurt, and a glass of orange juice, heroin can be part of a complete breakfast.”
Finding good information about medical devices can also be difficult. According to Oliver, very few medical device failures are reported to the FDA, which he finds stunning, because “100% of rude waiters are reported to Yelp and those aren’t killing anybody.” Oliver suggests that patients have to be their own advocates and ask questions, such as how long a device has been on the market and whether it can be removed once implanted.
To help spread the word about the risks of medical devices, Oliver conscripted 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Jane Krakowski to remind people to beware. “Treat medical devices like guys who have played Batman,” joked Krakowski. “Some are great, but new ones aren’t necessarily better, and there are a few you definitely don’t want to let inside your body.”
See the segment above.
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