Will Apple Change Health Research?

Apple is changing health research with their development of the ResearchKit framework. The smartphone revolution now leading to a health research revolution.

The latest Apple keynote has happened.

While everyone loves their iphone and tablet and is excited by better cameras and faster processors. Apple has launched something more exciting and more life changing than any of that. Today they launch Research Kit.

What’s Wrong With Research

Most medical research right now is done with surveys and paid participation studies. A diabetes study might involve 100 patients paid a certain amount to make a once a month visit to a doctor and track their blood glucose levels.

This gives us glimpses into health, snapshots of data that is then interpreted far away from the whole picture.

Those that may want to participate in research sometimes can’t due to logistical issues, timing, availability, and any number of complications. Even answering a mail survey of multiple choice questions that can truly help give a better understanding of health… has a notoriously low response rate.

We live in a world where it has to be easy, and convenient. Even when it’s as important as your health.

Smartphone Revolution

Your smart phones are filled with sensors, motion, audio, light, even heart rate sensors, combined with a powerful processor and unprecedented connectivity.

Folks who suffer a health issue, or are simply interested in participating in research are now carrying around a device that has the power to send relevant health information back to researchers in real time. (Or easily scheduled and reminded intervals!)

Even if it broke down to simply sending notifications to your phone to answer a few quick multiple choice questions, response rates and the deployment of the survey has the potential to skyrocket. Gone are the studies that track 30 or 100 people. Major research studies could take place long term over hundreds of thousands of users.

The data provided could be combined with relevant data from health tracking apps, sleep trackers, pedometers, simple ‘brain teaser’ games or tests.

The latest revolution in health research is already happening because it’s piggybacking the smartphone revolution.

Apple ResearchKit

They’ve made it open source, they’ve made it a framework. This means that more apps can integrate with an ever expanding and open ability for researchers to gather data, interpret, and collaborate. This is a massive boon from the perspective of a researcher.

To test the waters a few initial apps have been made in partnership with medical institutions that cover some important ground.The first apps have incredibly powerful potential for research and create proof of concept for endless possibilities.

The first apps developed by medical institutions to bolster health research with smartphones.

1. Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s mPower app – this app will help you track symptoms by using a few simple memory games, finger tapping tests, speaking and walking tests that the sensors in the iphone are all perfect for tracking. This could make huge leaps in tracking disease progression on various medications, and at different stages.

2. Diabetes

GlucoSuccess – for diabetes tracking, allowing users to see correlations between activity and food choices with blood glucose levels. It’s not hard to imagine someone releasing a blood glucose monitor that automatically syncs to your glucose app every time it’s measured. The tracking of effectiveness for diabetes treatment, lifestyle changes, and potentially dangerous symptom progression is tremendous.  This kind of technology could keep people from ever needing to go on insulin, and give a vastly superior understanding of what works and what doesn’t’ in preventing diabetes.

3. Breast Cancer

Share the Journey – which is an app that is itself a research study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Penn Medicine, Sage Bionetworks and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center is going to give surveys and some sensor data from the iphone to track fatigue, mood, sleep issues, exercise reduction, cognitive changes in breast cancer survivors. This should enlighten them as to why some recover better and faster from breast cancer than others. This data could be critical to keeping breast cancer survivors on track with a systematized approach to recovery.

4. Heart Disease

MyHeart Counts measures activity and uses survey information to show how lifestyle and activity affect cardiovascular health. Many of our current assertions considered obvious may have far more depth to them, or be wrong all together!

5. Asthma

Asthma Health App is part education, part self-monitoring. Reinforcing good habits, and tracking symptoms patterns and triggers will allow researchers to keep their patients safe and understand their behaviors better for lowering risk. Again it’s not hard to imagine a future with inhalers that trigger a count on your iphone automatically when used and with GPS in the phone then being able to track and create maps of high risk areas.

The possibilities are endless.

This is the most exciting time for health research since the survey.



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