Apple’s ResearchKit Poised to Revolutionize Large-scale Medical Studies

13 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 things to know about Apple’s medical apps.

Turns out that people are super willing to participate in medical research studies when you make it easy and convenient. Apple has made some adjustments to its developer guidelines today, adding new rules that app makers must follow to have their software included in the iOS App Store.San Francisco: Amid all the talk of Apple Watch, a new MacBook laptop and a partnership with HBO, a set of Apple tools aimed at promoting medical research didn’t get much attention.

According to Bloomberg, thousands of iPhone users have already embraced ResearchKit, which was designed to help doctors and scientists gather data more frequently and accurately using iPhone apps. Just one day after the company released the first five apps using the new ResearchKit framework, 11,000 iPhone users signed up for one of the studies. The tools, called ResearchKit, promise to help researchers study asthma, Parkinson’s and other diseases by recruiting test subjects through iPhone apps. Unveiled on Monday as part of Apple’s special event in California, ResearchKit essentially lets health and fitness apps communicate with each other, with your permission. At least two of the apps that Apple announced on stage Monday — and helped create — already offer a point of contact, though developers hope they can take communication even further.

Stanford Researchers were amazed at the response for the MyHeart Counts app that studies heart health by measuring a user’s daily activity, fitness level, and other factors. “To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year,” Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health, told Bloomberg Business. These tools could give researchers more data to work with by making it easier for people to offer themselves up to science, but even supporters say the data won’t be appropriate for every study. After you give the go-ahead, ResearchKit can access data from the iOS Health app such as your weight, blood pressure, glucose levels, and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps. ResearchKit is a new developer framework from Apple that seeks to harness the vast user base of the iPhone to help recruit people for medical studies.

Because the device is sensor-laden and is usually kept in a pocket, data isn’t collected every three or so months like in many research trials; the tool will update with new information every few seconds. That’s something that we are going to try to figure out next, for instance, can we come with some sort of peer-to-peer system where people can ask questions.” The company worked with Apple to build two ResearchKit-compatible apps, MyHeart Counts and Share the Journey. The framework allows developers to take advantage of the iPhone’s various sensors to help monitor activity levels or collect information from Apple’s HealthKit platform. Another new developer guideline spells imminent death for apps that rip music, videos, and other content from services like YouTube, SoundCloud, and Vimeo without obtaining permission.

The goal is to ultimately improve patients’ health and the ability to care for them. “ResearchKit was probably the biggest surprise coming out of the Apple event,” Scott Snyder, president and chief strategy officer at mobile engagement provider at Mobiquity told Mashable. “Other than working with HealthKit parters like the Mayo Clinic for HealthKit, Apple has shied away from getting involved with healthcare. An iPhone user who wants to participate downloads that app and fills out a questionnaire to determine eligibility and establish a base line for further comparisons. But ResearchKit opens up the possibility of data from 700 million iOS devices to be mined for patterns and behaviors that create a whole new world for healthcare research.” Those possibilities, in theory, could be a huge step forward for the medical field.

Other new additions, according to 9to5Mac, help solidify the rules around where and how developers can use Apple Pay, the company’s mobile payments system. But longer term, ResearchKit could still be a big help to medical researchers even if it only helps recruit people in direct contact with the research institution. For example, researchers could potentially determine if those who live in higher-noise areas are more susceptible to stress-related illnesses or even seizures, and if diet and activity have a significant impact on tremors or flare-ups in certain disease areas, Snyder suggested. “These are just hypotheses today, given the difficulty and expense of running credible studies,” he said. “But we will have a massive living laboratory to answer some of these key questions, especially when the lifestyle data can be merged with longitudinal health data.” A series of activities might include tapping different parts of the iPhone’s touchscreen to gauge response rate, multitasking skills and more, as well as voice tests like saying “ahh” into the microphone.

Some questioned whether ResearchKit apps will adequately protect user privacy, while others say that the system could result in misleading data if a user accidentally hits the wrong button or lets someone else use their phone. The institution is bringing its Asthma Health app (by tech startup LifeMap Solutions), which helps asthma patients manage their condition, to the platform. So far, partners include Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Oxford, Xuanwu Hospital of Capital Medical University in China and Stanford University. But she says ResearchKit could help with many common ailments involving heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as apps could be used as an objective tracker of lifestyles.

Apple worked with five groups of researchers prior to Monday’s announcement of ResearchKit and released five apps aimed at studying Parkinson’s disease, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular issues and breast cancer. Ray Dorsey, a University of Rochester neurology professor involved with the Parkinson’s app, also says researchers will have to weigh the benefit of getting more participants and more data against not being able to see participants in person.

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