Apple Unveils Open-Source Software To Improve Health Research

On Monday, Apple announced the upcoming release of ResearchKit, which will allow researchers to gather data from iPhone users to help further medical research, Reuters reports (Steenhuysen, Reuters, 3/9).

ResearchKit is an open-source software platform that includes disease-specific applications that patients can use to track their symptoms. It can be used to gather iPhone users' data and find potential study participants (Belluz, Vox, 3/9). Users will have the option of participating in studies and indicating certain data sharing preferences. If users allow, researchers also will be able to access an iPhones accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS and microphone sensors to study participants':

  • Fitness;
  • Gait;
  • Memory;
  • Motor impairment; and
  • Speech (Reuters, 3/9).

Researchers also will be able to access data from Apple's HealthKit (Verel, MedCity News, 3/9). The HealthKit platform culls health data -- including asthma inhaler use, blood pressure, glucose levels and weight -- from fitness and health apps on iPhones (Reuters, 3/9). In addition, HealthKit can harness data from the newly unveiled Apple Watch. Apple will not be able to access the data (MedCity News, 3/9).

According to Reuters, ResearchKit is expected to help create study populations that are more diverse (Reuters, 3/9).

Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams also said that the tool would help researchers with problems of small sample sizes or issues resulting from subjective or potentially faulty data (Tahir, Modern Healthcare, 3/9).

ResearchKit will be available to the general public next month. Meanwhile, five apps built with the research tool by Apple and medical research partners are available in Apple's App Store, including apps to aid research on:

  • Asthma;
  • Breast cancer;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Diabetes; and
  • Parkinson's disease (MedCity News, 3/9).


John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a member of the federal Health IT Policy committee, said, "Voluntary contribution of personal data in support of clinical research is real medical altruism." He added, "I applaud Apple for providing the middleware which makes this easy for researchers and secure for patients."

Bradley Merrill Thompson, general counsel for mHealth Regulatory Coalition, said, "Clinical trials are very expensive and heretofore have been conducted very inefficiently when it comes to data management." He added, "So this could be a fairly disruptive technology. Improving the administration of clinical trials is of very high public health importance" (Gold, Politico, 3/9).

Apple Launches Smartwatch

Meanwhile, Apple on Monday also officially launched its smartwatch, which it intends to serve as a "comprehensive health and fitness companion," Health Data Management reports.

Apple Watch, which requires users to have an iPhone as its wireless foundation, tracks and monitors users' physical activity using:

  • An accelerometer;
  • A built-in heart rate sensor;
  • GPS; and
  • Wi-Fi from iPhone.

The smartwatch also can send users reminders to be more active and display a report of individuals' weekly activity.

Apple Watch will be available in nine countries including the U.S., beginning April 24. The smartwatch will be available in two different sizes, 38 mm and 42 mm, and in three versions:

  • Apple Watch Sport, which costs $349 and $399;
  • Apple Watch, which costs $549 and $1,099; and
  • Apple Watch Edition, which is crafted from rose or yellow 18-karat gold alloys and priced starting at $10,000 (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 3/10).
Source: iHealthBeat, Tuesday, March 10, 2015