March 12, 2015

Apple’s New ResearchKit: A Doctor’s View

By Mike Sevilla, MD


Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on Dr. Mike Sevilla | Family Physician

In my opinion, the most important announcement from Apple this week was not about its watch, but about Apple HealthKit and Apple ResearchKit. I believe these two new software frameworks will revolutionize medical research in ways we do not even understand yet.

During its announcement, Apple described three key challenges of medical research. First, it’s difficult to recruit research subjects. Next, when research subjects are found, it’s difficult to gather comprehensive data – only snapshots in time. Finally, research subjects provide information (one way communication) and typically do not hear back from the research team.

With 700M iPhones sold already, Apple saw an opportunity to assist the medical research community by creating Apple ResearchKit. ResearchKit is a software framework made specifically for medical research. With ResearchKit, universities and medical institutions hope to accumulate lots of data, more accurate data, and interact with research subjects in ways they have never done so before.

Five Apple ResearchKit apps were announced: “mPower” for Parkinson’s disease, “GlucoSuccess” for diabetes, “MyHeart Counts” for heart disease, “Asthma Health” for asthma, and “Share The Journey” for breast cancer.

As for patient privacy, Apple is promising comprehensive opt-in parameters. “You decide whether to participate. You decide how the data is shared.  Apple will not see your data.”

Skeptics of ResearchKit have raised concerns.

Writing in, Dan Munro cautions consumers to remember that Apple is more interested in “proprietary formats and they still want to dictate those formats.” Never mind that Apple announced ResearchKit software will be “open source,” meaning it will not be a proprietary format and the technology community will be able to address the interoperability concerns Munro also discusses.

In another early critique, Owen Thomas writes in about how companies like MyFitnessPal are already engaging in data mining. Can Apple be trusted to not do the same? Of perhaps equal or more concern, the Apple HealthKit software is “horribly buggy” and doesn’t “even come close to our expectations for Apple products.”

My take? Well, I think that HealthKit and ResearchKit are important in three ways:

  •  Moves Medical Research Closer to the Mainstream: Apple has an uncanny way of moving products and ideas from the edge to the mainstream. What mp3 player were you using before iPod? What phone were you using before iPhone? And, are you even wearing a watch right now?
  • The Acceleration Of The Research Cycle: Those in the medical industry know how painfully long it takes for a research project to get from idea to completion – sometimes many years. If ResearchKit delivers on its promise, better treatments will come to market faster, and that's better for everyone.
  • Engaged Patients plus Interactive Medical Teams equals Better Medicine: What everyone is looking for is better communication among patients, families, and the medical team. Imagine the synergy that will be created with the right app technology, engaged patients, and interactive medical teams. Just mind blowing.

I’m excited about the potential HealthKit and ResearchKit.

ResearchKit software will be available to everyone, including app developers, researchers, and medical institutions next month. If you haven’t downloaded the five apps, they are available now, so check them out. The potential here is limited only by imagination.



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Apple's New ResearchKit: A Doctor's View
Apple’s New ResearchKit: A Doctor’s View
even come close to our expectations for Apple products.

Tags: Patient Involvement, Physician Involvement

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