What Does It Take to Get a Medical Device to Market?

6 May 2024

If you are an entrepreneur or innovator in the healthcare industry or are considering entering the space, it’s important to understand what is involved in getting a medical device to market. This is a journey fraught with challenges, complexities, and regulatory scrutiny. For those involved in the design, development, and distribution of medical technologies, this article will offer a high-level roadmap of the process from concept to market.

Medical devices, integral to modern healthcare, span a broad spectrum from simple tools like thermometers to sophisticated inventions like pacemakers and MRI machines. We’ll cover the basic definitions and present a 5-step process for going from an idea to a working, regulated medical device deployed in the field.

What Are Medical Devices?

Medical devices are products or equipment used in healthcare for the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment, or alleviation of disease. They range from simple items like thermometers to complex technologies such as pacemakers and MRI machines.

Unlike pharmaceuticals, medical devices act through physical means, including mechanical action, physical barriers, or replacement of body parts or functions. Increasingly, medical devices are connected to the Internet, forming what is known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).

Regulatory agencies classify devices into categories based on the risks they pose to patients or users, guiding manufacturers on the type of pre-market approval required. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies medical devices into the following main categories:

  • Class I Devices: Considered to have the lowest risk and are generally exempt from premarket notifications but still subject to protocols like labeling, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), and registration. Examples include bandages, examination gloves, and hand-held surgical instruments.
  • Class II Devices: Devices in this category pose a moderate to high risk to the patient or user. They typically undergo a premarket notification process, which involves demonstrating that the new device is equivalent to a legally marketed device not subject to premarket approval (PMA). Examples include powered wheelchairs, infusion pumps, and surgical drapes.
  • Class III Devices: These are the highest-risk devices and are subject to the most stringent regulatory controls. These devices must typically receive full premarket approval (PMA) from the FDA, demonstrating safety and effectiveness for their intended use. This process is more involved and requires the submission of clinical trial data. Examples include implantable pacemakers, heart valves, and deep brain stimulators.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Medical Device to Market?

Bringing a medical device to market can take anywhere from 3 to 7 years, depending on the device's complexity, regulatory pathway, and market requirements. The duration hinges on multiple factors, including device classification, innovation level, and the need for clinical trials.

The process is lengthy due to the stringent regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring patient safety and device efficacy. These regulations vary by country, adding another layer of complexity for companies aiming for global distribution. Navigating through these requirements demands careful planning and execution.

5 Stages for Bringing a Medical Device to Market

The process of getting a medical device approved for sale involves the following stages.

1. Building the Business Case

First, the creator of the device must present a viable business case for the product. It should include the following elements.

Conduct Market Research

Market research is vital for understanding the need for a new medical device. It involves analyzing existing solutions, identifying gaps, and assessing potential demand. Insights gained help define the device’s value proposition and target market.

Secondary research involving existing reports and data gives a broad market overview. Primary research, including surveys and interviews with healthcare professionals, offers deeper insights into specific needs and preferences.

Estimate the Project Timeline and Costs

Determining a realistic project timeline and budget is crucial. Early estimates guide resource allocation and funding strategies. Timelines should include all stages, from concept to launch, factoring in potential delays.

Cost considerations span development, regulatory compliance, manufacturing, and marketing. Underestimating these can lead to budget overruns and project delays, emphasizing the importance of thorough financial planning from the outset.

Create a Prototype

Prototyping transforms ideas into tangible forms. Initial prototypes help validate concepts and usability, facilitating improvements before the final design. This iterative process reduces long-term costs by identifying issues early.

Advanced prototypes, closer to the final product, enable detailed user feedback and regulatory pre-assessments. These versions are crucial for demonstrating feasibility and securing early investments or regulatory insights.

2. Early Stage Considerations

Next, you can progress to setting up the product development project. This includes the following steps.

Secure Funding and Assemble a Team

Funding sets the foundation for project viability. Investors or grants typically require proof of concept and a clear business case. Efficient use of funds needs a transparent plan and milestones.

Assembling a multidisciplinary team brings together the necessary expertise for development, regulatory compliance, and market analysis. This team can drive the project from conceptualization to the market, adapting to challenges along the way.

Develop a Regulatory Plan

A clear regulatory plan is essential for navigating compliance requirements. It details the submission strategy, including necessary tests and documentation. This plan evolves, adapting to regulatory feedback and changes in regulations.

Early engagement with regulatory bodies can streamline the process, offering guidance and identifying potential issues before formal submission. This can also reduce the time to market.

Select Markets of Interest

Choosing target markets early informs design, regulatory, and marketing strategies. Factors include market size, healthcare infrastructure, and regulatory landscape. Prioritizing markets based on strategic considerations guides the focus for regulatory submissions and market entry plans.

Understanding specific market regulations and standards is critical for compliance. This knowledge informs product development, ensuring designs meet all necessary requirements for each target market.

3. Product Development Phase

The actual product development stage includes the following steps.

Implement Design Controls

Design controls ensure medical devices meet user needs and regulatory requirements throughout development. These processes document the design and development stages, facilitating traceability and quality assurance.

Key elements include defining user requirements, establishing design inputs and outputs, and conducting reviews and verification/validation activities. Adherence to design controls is crucial for regulatory compliance and product quality.

Implement Risk Management

Risk management identifies, assesses, and mitigates risks associated with medical devices. It’s an ongoing process integral to device safety and efficacy, woven into the development lifecycle.

ISO 14971 provides a framework for risk management in medical devices, emphasizing the importance of identifying hazards, estimating and evaluating associated risks, and controlling these risks. Effective risk management contributes to safer products and smoother regulatory approvals.

Develop Relationships with End Users

Engaging with end users, such as healthcare professionals and patients, provides valuable feedback. These relationships highlight practical needs, usability issues, and potential improvements.

Ongoing engagement through development ensures the final product fulfills user needs, enhancing adoption rates and market success. User feedback is also instrumental in demonstrating the device’s real-world effectiveness and safety to regulatory bodies.

4. Product Launch

Finally, once the approvals are granted and the product is ready, the device can be put on the market. This involves the following steps.

Transfer the Design to Production

Design transfer translates the final product design into mass-production specifications. This ensures the manufacturability of the device while maintaining design integrity and compliance with regulatory requirements.

Effective design transfer requires close collaboration between development and manufacturing teams. Clear documentation and communication prevent discrepancies, ensuring the final product matches the approved design.

Set Up the Distribution Network

A robust distribution network ensures timely product delivery to the market. This involves selecting distributors, negotiating contracts, and establishing logistical arrangements.

Factors to consider include market access, storage and handling requirements, and local regulatory compliance. Strong distribution partnerships enhance market penetration and customer service.

Register the Product

Product registration secures regulatory approval for market entry. This involves submitting detailed documentation to regulatory authorities, showcasing compliance with all necessary standards and regulations.

The complexity of registration varies by market, necessitating comprehensive preparation and understanding of local requirements. This is the final hurdle before the market launch.

5. Post Launch Considerations

Once the product is on the market, there are still some steps that need to be taken to ensure the device’s success.

Track the Product Postmarket

Postmarket surveillance involves monitoring the performance and safety of medical devices after market entry. This ongoing process collects and evaluates data from various sources, including user feedback and adverse event reports.

The insights gained inform continuous improvements, ensuring long-term device safety and efficacy. Regulatory bodies might require detailed postmarket surveillance plans for product approval, especially for high-risk devices.

Manage Quality Events

Identifying and addressing quality events promptly is crucial for maintaining trust and regulatory compliance. This involves investigating incidents, implementing corrective actions, and reporting to regulatory authorities as necessary.

Maintain a QMS

A robust quality management system (QMS) supports effective event management. Maintaining a compliant QMS ensures consistent product quality and regulatory adherence. This involves regular audits, process optimizations, and updates to reflect changes in regulations or industry standards.


Bringing a medical device to market is a complex and lengthy process influenced by regulatory, technical, and market factors. A strategic approach, focusing on thorough planning and execution across all stages, is critical for success.

The journey from concept to market demands resilience and adaptability. Early planning, stakeholder engagement, and proactive risk management pave the way for a successful product launch and sustained market presence. The end goal remains clear: delivering innovative solutions that meet real healthcare needs, ensuring patient safety, and enhancing quality of life.