CBC News's joint investigation into the sometimes murky world of medical devices

They can give someone a new lease on life — even save a life. Millions of Canadians have medical devices implanted somewhere in their body. But when those devices malfunction, they can cause serious injury or death.

Malfunctions, or what Health Canada calls adverse incidents, are supposed to be reported to the agency. Trouble is, the average Canadian can't access those records. So anyone who wants to learn more about a device their doctor is recommending will have a hard time finding information about the device's safety. Even just learning how a device was approved for use can be a challenge. 

That's what The Implant Files are about. ​CBC News is part of a global media collaboration with Radio-Canada, the Toronto Star and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that examined tens of thousands of medical devices and how they're made, approved and monitored by regulators worldwide.

The reporting produced action, just days into the coverage:

"The government of Canada agrees that more can be done to further strengthen the oversight of medical devices and to be more open and transparent with Canadians about Health Canada's regulatory activities," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. 

Catch up on the reporting that prompted her action: 

Some patients say they feel like guinea pigs.

Hip replacement surgery in 2007 left Gloria McSherry with one leg longer than the other — and in brutal pain. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Watch Vik Adhopia's documentary for The National, The Implant Files:

CBC Health Reporter Vik Adhopia explores why it's so difficult for patients to find out how their medical devices are tested and approved in Canada 12:58

6,334 reports of injury in 10 years

Health Canada data obtained under Access to Information reveals that in the past 10 years, insulin pumps have been the subject of at least 40 recalls and may have a played a role in 103 deaths and more than 1,900 injuries — more than any other high-risk medical device in the health agency's database.

Watch Vik Adhopia's story here: 

CBC Health Reporter Vik Adhopia looks at why, for some people, the popular insulin pump might not be the safest way to regulate their blood glucose levels 3:10

"I was shocked because, like I said, my physician had made it seem like such a cakewalk," said Amanda Dykeman. "And when all these women kept joining and joining with the same symptoms, you kinda gotta put two and two together and realize there's something wrong with this device."

Listen to a discussion about online support on The Current.

This product image provided by Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, Inc. shows the birth control implant called Essure. Amanda Dykeman says she experienced symptoms including debilitating migraines after getting the device implanted. (Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals/Associated Press)

Her doctor told her she was crazy. She believed her debilitating pain and illness was caused by her breast implants. 

Katherine Smylie, who had her Biocell textured breast implants removed after experiencing pain, is shown in her home in Edmonton. (Rod Maldaner/CBC)

Undercover visits to three Toronto plastic surgeons by a CBC Marketplace producer — who posed as a prospective patient — revealed some sales techniques that a leading medical ethicist called "very problematic."

Nikki Carruthers said she experienced a wide range of symptoms after getting breast implants, including memory loss, blackouts, depression and exhaustion. She feels she was misled about the possible health implications of the procedure. (Dave Macintosh/CBC)

Health Canada estimates that one in 12,000 women with textured implants will develop breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, noting an occurrence rate of one case per 24,177 textured implants.

'It was surreal; my breast implants were going to kill me,' Terri McGregor said after learning of her diagnosis. 'I started putting my affairs in order, to prepare myself to die.' (Terri McGregor)

"You're frequently told you're making up stories," Natasha Roach said. "It's rude, it's arrogant, it shows a lack of compassion and empathy. It's not a good thing to tell a woman that things are in her head."

Natasha Roach, of Toronto, says she struggled to convince doctors that her symptoms were real and linked to the pelvic mesh she'd had implanted. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Learn more about your medical device by searching the CBC News database of Health Canada records. If you're using the CBC News app, you can access the page here.

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