3 Things to Know About the FDA

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FDA. HHS. CMS. CDER. With so many acronyms abounding in the health care world, talking about public health can sometimes feel like wading through alphabet soup! Today, I'll continue to explain the meaning--and the action--behind the acronyms you may hear when it comes to health care.

Let's start with one of the biggest players: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency of thousands of dedicated employees that works to ensure that the foods we eat, the medicines we take and the products we use are safe and effective.

What is the FDA?

The FDA is one of the many federal agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, the cabinet-level department that administers essential services to promote better public health in the United States. With headquarters in White Oak, MD and hundreds of additional field offices and laboratories throughout the United States, the FDA monitors the safety, efficacy and security of publicly available products. The FDA employs more than 14,000 people, from scientists who study the safety of new medicines or cosmetics to educators who raise awareness about important health issues.

What does the FDA do?

Since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, the FDA and its forerunners have been tasked with ensuring public health through the regulation of food, medicine, cosmetics, tobacco, medical devices and a host of other items. Before we can safely eat, digest, or come into contact with a product, the FDA makes sure that it checks out.

The FDA also supports the discovery and innovation that makes medicines safer and more accessible. It achieves this by thoroughly and efficiently reviewing the efficacy of potential new medicines and by making its findings available for consumers and patients.

Why does the FDA Matter?

The FDA has an extremely wide and incredibly important scope of responsibility. Such a broad set of duties demands that it consist of many individual departments, each dedicated to a different area of review and approval like veterinary products, medical devices, food safety, and others. The subdivision for which the FDA is arguably most well known is CDER, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which evaluates new medicines. From over-the-counter painkillers to new therapies to treat cancer, CDER reviews each product to ensure patients can use it safely. After years, sometimes decades, of research and development, CDER and the FDA serve as the final step before a product reaches patients.

While much of its work goes unmentioned and occurs behind the scenes, the FDA's decisions impact every one of us on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not. It is a key piece in the puzzle to not only developing and accessing new medicines, but to promoting a healthy standard of living for all Americans.