If we are being totally honest here, I am not an Apple fan. (Where did this command key come from?) But despite my unreasoned feelings towards Apple, they recently released a new healthcare platform that has me considering stealing my roommate’s iPhone just to see it in real time.
In early March, Apple released ResearchKit—software that can be used by medical researchers to collect data for clinical trials. Currently the kit provides 5 apps that explore important disease states such as asthma, diabetes, and even Parkinson’s. Data collection is mainly through third party applications that can be measured objectively or entered manually by the patient. For example, patients participating in the Parkinson’s study can have their dexterity measured via a screen-tap test or their balance assessed via the phone’s accelerometer sensors!
To say that this bundle of apps can have an enormous impact on medical research is an understatement. This means larger, more varied, and more geographically diverse study groups than ever before—and with much less effort. In fact, the day ResearchKit launched, 11,000 participants signed up for the cardiovascular trial alone.
The Potential Pitfalls
Just like with any shiny new idea, concerns soon followed—for example, around privacy of patient health information. However, as a student of the sciences (for what seems like forever), my worries lie less with the logistics of ResearchKit and more with the larger clinical picture. How applicable is a study completed in only United States iPhone users? How reliable is the data manually entered from people on their tiny smartphone with tiny buttons? Are they screening themselves properly? How do we even know they are who they say they are? We don’t know.
Either way, it does not take away from the fact that ResearchKit is the first of its kind. I may not be citing any ResearchKit driven studies anytime soon, but even as someone who is usually anti-Apple, I do believe they are on to something completely brilliant.