Healthcare Technology Featured Article

March 10, 2015

Apple's ResearchKit Can Help Gather Data for Medical Researchers

Apple announced a smorgasbord of news, devices, and services during its March event yesterday. In addition to expansion of stores in Asia, HBO’s marriage to Apple TV, and news that the iPhone continues to see inordinate growth in the smartphone market, the industry giant introduced its new ResearchKit, which should allow medical researchers to gather data from iPhone users that may help with diagnostics.

ResearchKit is a software framework that allows iPhone users to participate in quick surveys and take certain tests that are then shared with medical researchers. For example, one of the applications is specified for asthmatic iPhone users. The app will monitor how often the participant needs his or her inhaler. Another application for Parkinson’s establishes a framework of tests that can help identify and diagnose the disease.  Other apps will gather data that researchers can use in their study of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among other health conditions.

The fundamental purpose of ResearchKit is to increase sample sizes for medical research projects by simplifying global outreach. By integrating apps into iPhones, dozens of universities and research organizations can stay directly linked to patients who may have information that can help establish trends and improve the value of specific studies through more robust sample data from all over the world, rather than in isolated geographies.   

Participation is entirely voluntary, and users will have complete control over what information they choose to share with researchers, so no “Big Brother” of healthcare here.

The merit of ResearchKit’s data will depend entirely on how it is used. We have seen mobile devices used for healthcare technology in a plethora of innovative ways, but the idea of expert-medical researchers relying on data gathered from iPhones is somewhat unsettling. User error is the main concern here. Marking the wrong box, standing too far away from the headphone portal for a specific test, or even a simple instructional error can potentially skew data intended to help people with medical conditions.

Surely, the researchers in collaboration with Apple have worked—and will continue to work—day and night to streamline their system for gathering medical data that could help usher in improved healthcare solutions worldwide.

We’ll start finding out soon enough. ResearchKit is slated for release next month. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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