Data-driven technologies, particularly artificial intelligence and other complex algorithms, have the potential to enhance patient care and catalyse medical breakthroughs. However, these technologies are heavily reliant on data, which poses challenges in ensuring that patient information is handled in a safe, secure and legally compliant way.

In response to early issues with the deployment of artificial intelligence and other algorithmic tools in healthcare, on 5 September 2018 the UK Department of Health & Social Care (DH) published an Initial Code of Conduct for Developers and Suppliers of Data-driven Health and Care Technology (the Code). The Code is not legally binding but aims to raise standards by establishing best practices.

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Software can be considered a medical device under EU law. Although guidance has been issued by the European Commission and national authorities to assist in legal classification, factors or criteria that are considered as relevant in such guidance have not been validated by European or national courts. The recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on legal classification of software medical device is therefore instructive.

The European Court’s first decision on the classification of software in the context of medical devices legislation

On 7 December 2017, the CJEU issued its judgment in Case C-329/16. The CJEU agreed with the Advocate General’s opinion (discussed in our previous advisory), and held that software can be classified as a medical device under EU law if the software has at least one functionality that allows the use of patient-specific data to assist the physician in prescribing or calculating the dosage for treating the underlying condition. It does not matter whether the software acts directly or indirectly on the human body. The decisive factor is whether the software is specifically intended by the manufacturer to be used for one or more medical objectives specified in Article 1(2) of Directive 93/42/EEC (the Medical Devices Directive), including the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment or alleviation of disease.

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On 28 June, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union gave his opinion on the SNITEM and Philips France case against France. In this case, the Conseil d’Etat in France asked whether a particular software programme intended to be used by doctors to support prescribing decisions falls within the definition of medical device as provided by Directive 93/42/EEC (Medical Devices Directive).

Continue Reading Advocate General’s opinion on software as medical devices