Buying Medical Devices
Buying Medical Devices Online
Janet's arthritis was really hurting, so she decided to check the Internet
for new arthritis products. As she surfed the Net, she found many advertisements
offering cures and advice. There were ads for magnets, copper bracelets,
knee braces, and arch supports. Then, there were all those vitamin and
herbal remedies claiming to cure her arthritis. Janet felt overwhelmed.
What should she do? Whom could she trust?
Do you buy medical products on the Internet? If so, you know how Janet
felt and you have lots of company. According to a study by Cyber Dialogue,
11 million consumers are shopping on the Internet for health and beauty
products, and that number is projected to grow to 55 million by 2005.
Drug purchases account for most of the $93 million that consumers spent
for health care over the Internet. However, growing numbers of consumers
are buying medical devices on-line. The medical devices include such products
as hearing aids, contact lenses, magnets, and laboratory diagnostic test
What is considered a medical device? The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
defines a medical device as an instrument, a machine, an implant, or a
diagnostic test used to help diagnose a disease or other condition or
to cure, treat, or prevent disease. Types of medical devices range from
thermometers to artificial hearts to at-home pregnancy test kits.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants you to know some of the
advantages and pitfalls of buying medical products on the Internet. Buying
on-line offers privacy, convenience and potential cost-savings, but personal
data given by the consumer can be misused by unscrupulous dealers. While
the Internet offers many quality medical devices from legitimate sites,
it also offers medical devices that don't work and some that may even
harm you or your family. Some Web sites sell medical devices for unapproved
uses, or they sell medical devices that have not been cleared or approved
by FDA. Other Web sites sell prescription medical devices without asking
for a prescription. Some foreign Web sites sell medical devices to customers
in the United States where the medical devices have not been cleared or
approved for sale. Below are some examples of problems with Internet purchases.
- Contact lenses are being sold without
a doctor's prescription.
- Hearing aids are being sold without selection and fitting by health
- Magnets are advertised to cure multiple conditions such as carpal
tunnel, motion sickness, and back ache.
- Test kits are being sold to consumers
to detect serious illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes, or illegal
The FDA has monitored Internet sales of health products for several years
and has sent warnings about illegal practices to more than 50 companies.
Even though its resources are limited, the FDA is increasing its monitoring
of Internet sales and is working with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
to stop illegal advertising. The FTC works with both state and Federal
consumer protection and public health agencies. It can take legal actions
against Internet advertisers of health products that run false or misleading
How can you be a wise consumer?
- Pay attention to labels. If the instructions are in many languages
or if measurements are in S.I. (metric) units, the product may be intended
for sale in another country, not the U.S. This can mean the product
does not meet U.S. requirements and may be of inferior quality.
- Beware of cure-alls claims, amazing results, and independent research
that the government is supposedly hiding. Unscrupulous merchants have
found a new audience for miracle cure-alls on the Internet. Remember,
if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Ask the seller, "Has the FDA cleared or approved this product
for sale in the United States?"
- Talk to your healthcare professional about medical devices that you
plan to buy on the Internet.
- Beware of sites that do not include an address and telephone in the
- Check the FDA's Buying Online Homepage at http://www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/
for helpful information about buying medical products on the Internet
and to notify the FDA about problem Web sites. You can also report problem
Web sites by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Internet offers many opportunities for consumers to receive new information
and new offers of legitimate medical products. Unfortunately, it is difficult
to examine an Internet business in the same way as you would a local store.
It is easy for a dishonest merchant to set up a professional-looking Web
site. However, if you take a few simple precautions, your Internet purchase
can be a worthwhile experience.