Apple created a new ResearchKit software platform, which gathers data from a health app and shares it with doctors and researchers. The ResearchKit creates an app that asks users’ permission to register and interpret information about their body weight, blood pressure, physical activity, and mood fluctuation, as well as data about their medical conditions, from diabetes or cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or breast cancer. This will enlarge the number of possible test subjects, because the data is made available directly to scientists and research participants can be recruited otherwise than through doctors’ personal networks or through the promise of financial rewards. Due to this innovation, clinical studies could become more accurate, especially when it comes to control groups.
To be part of a study, users have to fill out a questionnaire in order to find out whether they are eligible. Then they can read more about the study and give their consent to participate in it. ResearchKit can gather data from other applications, such as fitness trackers, but only with users’ agreement and without disclosing that information to Apple. The data is sent directly to medical specialists, after being assigned a random code. Five applications have already been launched, monitoring Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Developed by cardiologists at Stanford University School of Medicine, one of the new apps, called MyHeart Counts, is dedicated to monitor the risks of heart attack or stroke. Among the questions asked upon signing in are life-style and dietary queries, but also questions related to the subjective assessment of depression or stress levels, sleep disorders, or exercise routines. Dr. Michael McConnell, Professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, explained that the purpose of the app is not just to collect research data, but to provide people with more information on their risk rates and with more personalized feedback. Researchers say that this app made more people sign up for tests in its first 24 hours than 50 medical centers would have convinced in a whole year.
Some customers and many critical voices are worried that, since the apps require one’s real name and birth date, the information provided could be hacked or sold. Apple guarantees that, due to the labeling of personal info with random ID information, researchers cannot identify the patients, and the data does not go to the Apple Company. Dr. McConnell conceded that the application is not completely immune to malware, but the randomized identities system is set to prevent hackers from stealing actual accurate data.
image source: Apple