Apple ResearchKit

In case you missed it, Apple made some announcements yesterday. They talked some more about the Apple Watch, but you still can’t buy one. You can’t even order one until next month. So we’ll wait a bit longer before we discuss what impact it might have on the wearable Health Tech market until after we know more about what it really does. However, another topic drew a lot of attention: Apple’s new ResearchKit. First, let’s deal with what it isn’t. The ResearchKit does not have anything to do directly with Apple Watch. It is possible that in the future, the Apple Watch may be a source of data for ResearchKit apps, but for now, that’s more or less beside the point.

The ResearchKit is basically a software development kit for researchers to make it easier for them to gather data from health study subjects. It can easily access data generated by the Apple HealthKit, to add biometric information to the research results. Part of the idea is that it makes it easy for researchers to create their own apps, and then make them available to the public. Users can then opt in to the various studies and provide data. According to an Apple representative, Apple never sees the users’ data; that’s just between them and the researchers. Users apparently will also be able to put limits on how their data is to be used, though the mechanics of this process was not discussed.

Apple has already partnered with medical researchers to create apps to gather data about asthma, Parkinson’s, diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and all of these apps are now available in Apple’s App Store. The apps range from simple diagnostic tests to quizzes that you can answer to get a health assessment. These certainly appear to be noble efforts, but it’s not clear how useful this will be for clinical trials. Studies based on self-selected subjects have problems from the start, and if the data is based on self-reporting rather than sensor-collected metrics, it may be susceptible to all sorts of complicating factors that could affect their accuracy. And these apps only run on iOS devices, which greatly limits the population available to participate.

The ResearchKit may not be everything that Apple made it seem to be during their ceremony yesterday, but it will certainly help increase awareness of the need to aggregate data from larger populations in order to better understand what behaviors can improve or detract from our health.