John Oliver has taken aim at the medical device industry and the many dangers associated with it.
On his HBO show Last Week Tonight, the British comic explained that the industry is worth $156bn in the US and that 32 million Americans have at least one implant.
“All these years we’ve been waiting anxiously for the robot apocalypse and it turns out the robot apocalypse was inside us the whole time,” he said.
But medical devices have led to more than 80,000 deaths and 1.7m injuries in the past decade alone. One of the major problems is a lack of regulation, meaning many devices can be used without any real testing, a fact that even some doctors don’t know.
“Nobody wants to be treated like a guinea pig unless it means you get your own hanging water bottle that you can suck on from your bed, which actually sounds completely delightful to me,” Oliver said.
There’s a major distinction between a product being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and cleared by the FDA, the latter term not relating to any actual testing. “It’s a phrase that can promise way more than it delivers like when a cereal describes itself as part of a complete breakfast,” he said. “That doesn’t really mean anything! Anything can technically be part of a complete breakfast!”
He spoke about Essure, a device used to prevent pregnancy that has been the subject of controversy after many women reporting associated pain. Originally the company behind it claimed that 99% of women said that their experience had been good to excellent yet an investigation found that these surveys were asking them deliberately misleading questions and that, despite crippling pain, the fact that these women weren’t getting pregnant was a sign of its success.
“Just because something is technically fulfilling its job, it doesn’t mean that you have to be happy with it,” he said. “Pennywise technically fulfills all the requirements of a birthday clown but when you book him for your kid’s fifth birthday party and it doesn’t go well, you should not be obliged to rate him as excellent.”
A major problem is that less than 0.5% of medical device failures are even reported to the FDA, “which when you think about it, is genuinely remarkable since 100% of rude waiters are reported to Yelp and those aren’t killing anybody”, Oliver added.
Many people have found out about medical device issues via Facebook groups, which Oliver calls “traditionally the least reliable source of information right below horoscopes, InfoWars and a mole person screaming in the subway tunnels”.
Oliver concluded: “The point here is, our medical device system needs serious attention and, until it is fixed, it’d be nice if people were alerted to the flaws with our process with the same urgency with which they’re alerted to the flaws with their devices.”