Apple ResearchKit aims to improve medical studies

Apple took the tech and healthcare industries by surprise Monday in announcing a new framework called ResearchKit, aimed at furthering medical research.

The platform, which will be open source, allows iPhone users to participate in medical trials and studies through health data sharing capabilities. Using ResearchKit, medical researchers will have the ability to cull data through Apple's HealthKit platform.

The ResearchKit platform is driven by Apple's innovative spirit, CEO Tim Cook said during a nearly two-hour live product update event.

"We have always wanted to make the biggest difference we could make," Cook said, explaining that Apple focused on the top four challenges facing medical researchers: recruiting volunteers for studies, subjective data, frequency of data and communications flow.

Apple has recruited dozens of top tier medical facilities and hospitals for ResearchKit, which will initially offer five free apps tied to specific medical ailments including diabetes, asthma, Parkinson's disease and heart monitoring. Those apps were made available Monday.

Noting the issues of data privacy and security, Apple made clear that any data shared or collected through ResearchKit would be highly protected and not accessible by the tech giant. Users will have complete control over participation in ResearchKit, Cook said.

Response to ResearchKit is likely to be positive given medical research challenges.

"The ResearchKit framework has the potential to facilitate outcomes-based evaluations of apps, as it enables researchers to study the relationships between multiple health-related data elements," Adam Powell, Ph.D., president of Payer+Provider Syndicate, told FierceMobileHealthcare via email following the announcement. "We are entering an era in which it may become easily possible to link a person's physical activity with their weight and blood pressure, and then to examine how mHealth interventions impact these key metrics. I am pleased by this announcement, as I feel that it may facilitate observational studies which were previously not feasible."

Apple has been extremely busy the past several years developing its HealthKit platform and talking with regulatory agencies regarding oversight on mobile medical apps and devices. Most recently, Stanford Health Care engineers announced the development of an mHealth app, called MyHealth, to synch the facility's electronic health record system with Apple's HealthKit platform.

In addition, more than a dozen leading U.S. hospitals are piloting Apple's HealthKit platform to track patient care and reduce operating costs.

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