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Determining FDA Requirements for Your Medical Device

March 27, 2024

Bringing a medical device to market can be a complex process, and one of the most critical aspects is ensuring compliance with FDA regulations. Understanding the FDA's requirements for your specific medical device is essential to avoid delays, costly mistakes, and potential legal issues. In this blog post, we'll guide you through the steps to determine the FDA requirements for your medical device.


Step 1: Classify Your Medical Device

The first step in determining FDA requirements is to classify your device based on its intended use and the level of risk it poses to patients. The FDA has established three classes of medical devices:

  • Class I: Low-risk devices, such as bandages and tongue depressors. These devices are subject to general controls.

  • Class II: Moderate-risk devices, such as powered wheelchairs and infusion pumps. These devices are subject to general and special controls.

  • Class III: High-risk devices, such as implantable pacemakers and heart valves. These devices are subject to general controls and premarket approval (PMA).


There are a few ways to determine your device classification. You can use FDA’s product classification database to type in your generic device name and review the results. The results will show you the three letter FDA product codes, device types, FDA regulation number, and device classification. FDA uses the three letter product codes to classify all different types of medical devices and assign classifications. Identifying your FDA product code is key to determining the FDA classification and requirements. Multiple product codes could be applicable to some medical devices.



Another way to determine your device classification, is by determining the device classification of a similar product that has already been cleared or approved by FDA. To do this, use a search engine and type the similar product name, followed by “FDA.” The search results should show you either the Premarket Notification [510(k)] or Premarket Approval (PMA) for the similar product. If your device is a Class I device, the similar product will not have a 510(k) or PMA, as FDA clearance or approval is likely not required. For these Class I devices, stick with searching via FDA’s product classification database.


Step 2: Determine the Applicable Regulatory Pathway

Once you've classified your device, you need to determine the appropriate regulatory pathway. If you have determined the three letter FDA product code, the webpage for the product code will list the required submission type. 


The three main pathways are:

  1. Premarket Notification (510(k)): Required for most Class II devices and some Class I devices. You must demonstrate that your device is substantially equivalent to a legally marketed device. Refer to the FDA's information on 510(k)s.

  2. Premarket Approval (PMA): Required for most Class III devices. This is the most stringent regulatory pathway, requiring extensive clinical data to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of your device. Consult the FDA's information on the PMA process.

  3. Exempt: Some Class I and Class II devices are exempt from premarket notification requirements, but they must still comply with general controls and applicable special controls. Check the FDA's list of exempt devices.


If your device requires a 510(k), you can search FDA’s 510(k) database by FDA product code to find an appropriate predicate device. When you find a potential predicate device, reviewing the 510(k) summary document available on FDA’s website will give you insights into the technical characteristics, features, and required performance testing for the device’s 510(k) clearance.


Similarly, if your device requires a PMA, you can search FDA’s PMA database for similar FDA approved devices. FDA makes the PMA Summary of Safety and Effectiveness document (SSED) available. This document summarizes the device, performance testing, and clinical testing used to support the PMA. The labeling (Instructions for Use) is also typically available on the FDA’s PMA listing page for the device.


Step 3: Identify Applicable Guidance Documents and Standards

The FDA provides guidance documents and recognized standards to help manufacturers comply with regulatory requirements. These documents cover various aspects of medical device development, such as design controls, labeling, and clinical investigations. Identify and review the guidance documents and standards relevant to your device to ensure compliance. Browse the FDA's guidance document database and recognized consensus standards.


You can also identify applicable FDA guidance documents and standards by reviewing the 510(k) summaries and PMA SSED documents for similar devices. In addition, the three letter FDA product code webpage will also list any applicable consensus standards for your device type.


Step 4: Develop a Regulatory Strategy

Based on the classification and regulatory pathway of your device, next develop a comprehensive regulatory strategy.


This should include:

  • A timeline for device development following design controls (21 CFR 820.30) and regulatory premarket submissions

  • A plan for conducting necessary non-clinical testing. This typically includes biocompatibility, sterilization, shelf-life, packaging validations, and animal studies. Use the information in the 510(k) summaries and PMA SSED to determine the performance testing required.

  • A plan for conducting necessary clinical testing. For most devices an Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) is required prior to initiating your clinical study in the US. Plan this additional FDA submission in your overall timeline.

  • A strategy for addressing potential regulatory hurdles or challenges.


Step 5: Engage with the FDA

Throughout the device development process, it is important to engage with the FDA to get feedback and guidance, especially for more innovative device types where the FDA regulations may not yet be defined. The FDA offers Pre-Submissions to discuss your device, regulatory strategy and proposed test plan prior to submitting a premarket application. Read more about planning for a successful FDA Pre-Submission here.


By engaging with the FDA early and often, you can minimize the risk of delays or setbacks during the regulatory process. Review the FDA's newly released guidance on pre-submission meetings.


Navigating FDA requirements for your medical device requires careful planning, attention to detail, and a thorough understanding of the regulatory landscape. By following these steps and seeking guidance from experts when needed, you can successfully bring your medical device to market while ensuring compliance with FDA regulations.


Consider seeking the assistance of a regulatory consultant to help navigate the complexities of FDA regulations and help you avoid pitfalls with your plan. Folio Consulting Group specializes in developing US regulatory strategies for medical devices to help you navigate FDA requirements.



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