China: Life Sciences Regulatory Crackdown Spreads to Medical Device Sector

This post was written by John Tan and Crystal Xu.

On August 15, 2013, the local Beijing office of the Ministry of Health (MOH) of the People's Republic of China announced (Chinese link) that it has started a three-month review of the use of high-value medical consumables and large-scale medical equipment in Beijing. In its announcement, the Beijing MOH noted that prior inspections of hospitals had found continuing problems with the misuse and overuse of medical devices to increase profits. The investigation is intended to strengthen hospitals’ management of the use of medical devices and to regulate the use of high value medical consumables.

In addition to this investigation, the Beijing MOH will also develop a database that will track the price and model of devices implanted in each patient, require hospitals to improve their purchasing management systems, and conduct periodic inspections of hospitals’ purchasing and management of medical consumables.

This latest investigation follows on increased regulatory enforcement actions throughout China's life sciences industry. In the last two months, there have been criminal and administrative enforcement actions targeting the pharmaceutical sector and a pricing investigation by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) into the infant formula sector that culminated in the largest fine in the history of China's enforcement of its anti-monopoly law. The NDRC is also conducting an ongoing investigation of pharmaceutical industry pricing practices and considering systemic revisions to China's drug pricing system. Additionally, on August 14, 2013 the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) announced a new three-month-long investigation into the pharmaceutical and medical services sectors, targeting bribery, fraud and anti-competitive practices.

The August 15th announcement by the Beijing MOH appears to signal the first recent enforcement action to specifically target the medical device sector.

In the run up to these enforcement actions, Chinese authorities issued a number of administrative regulations targeting the life sciences industry, including a new code of conduct for HCPs, and new guidance on strengthening anti-bribery controls in public medical institutions. Authorities also issued regulations on the centralized purchasing of medical consumables and large scale medical equipment containing provisions that would exclude companies found to have engaged in commercial bribery from participation in centralized purchasing.

At the end of 2012, China's Supreme People's Court, in conjunction with the Supreme People's Procuratorate, issued a new judicial interpretation of China's criminal law prohibiting bribery. This interpretation was widely viewed as signaling a new emphasis by Chinese authorities on prosecuting not just officials who accept bribes, but those who pay bribes as well.

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