There are 3 FDA regulatory classifications of medical devices: Class I, Class II and Class III. The classifications are assigned by the risk the medical device presents to the patient and the level of regulatory control the FDA determines is needed to legally market the device. As the classification level increases, the risk to the patient and FDA regulatory control increase. Accessories to medical devices, devices used with a medical device to support use of the device, are considered the same classification as the medical device.
The FDA classification of medical devices is based upon classifications for devices currently legally marketed in the United States. The FDA determines the device classification by the device intended use and risk the device presents to the patient. New medical devices are compared to legally marketed medical device classifications with the same intended use and technological characteristics to determine the device classification.
Class I medical devices have the least amount of regulatory control. Class I devices present minimal potential harm to the user. Class I devices are typically simple in design, manufacture and have a history of safe use. Examples of Class I devices include tongue depressors, arm slings, and hand-held surgical instruments. Most Class I devices are exempt from the premarket notification and may be exempt from compliance with the good manufacturing practices regulation.
Class II medical devices are devices where General Controls are not sufficient to assure safety and effectiveness and existing methods/standards/guidance documents are available to provide assurances of safety and effectiveness. In addition to compliance with General Controls, Class II devices are required to comply with Special Controls. Special Controls include:
- Special labeling requirements,
- Mandatory performance standards, both International and United States
- Postmarket surveillance
- FDA medical device specific guidance
Class II devices typically require pre-market notification by submission and FDA review of a 510(k) clearance to market submission. Examples of Class II devices include biological indicators, x-ray systems, gas analyzers, pumps, and surgical drapes.
Class III medical devices have the most stringent regulatory controls. For Class III medical devices, sufficient information is not available to assure safety and effectiveness through the application of General Controls and Special Controls. Class III devices usually support or sustain human life, are of substantial importance in preventing impairment of human health, or present a potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the patient. Typically a Pre-Market Approval (PMA) submission to the FDA is required to allow marketing of a Class III medical device. Examples of Class III devices that require a PMA are: replacement heart valves, silicone gel-filled breast implants, and implanted cerebella stimulators.