Gaps, Tensions, and Conflicts in the FDA Approval Process: Implications for Clinical Practice

Richard A. Deyo, MD, MPH


J Am Board Fam Med. 2004;17(2) 

In This Article


Despite derogatory comments from some politicians and some in the industries it regulates, the FDA does a credible job of trying to protect the public and to quickly review new drugs and devices. However, pressures for speed, conflicts of interest in decision-making, constrained legislative mandates, inadequate budgets, and often limited surveillance after products enter the market mean that scientific considerations are only part of the regulatory equation. These limitations can lead to misleading advertising of new drugs; promotion of less effective over more effective treatments; delays in identifying treatment risks; and perhaps unnecessary exposure of patients to treatments whose risks outweigh their benefits.

Regulatory approval provides many critical functions. However, it does not in itself help clinicians to identify the best treatment strategies. Physicians should be aware that new drugs may not be as effective as old ones; that new drugs are likely to have undiscovered side effects at the time they are marketed; that direct-to-consumer ads are sometimes misleading; that new devices generally have less rigorous evidence of efficacy than new drugs; and that value for money is not considered in the approval process. If clinicians are to practice evidence-based and cost-effective medicine, they must use additional skills and resources to evaluate new treatments. Depending exclusively on the regulatory process may lead to suboptimal care.