By Mike Colombo, VP Marketing, Calgary Scientific
In March of this year Apple added another arrow to its quiver of mobile health innovations: the ResearchKit. The cousin to the previously released HealthKit, ResearchKit does for medical research what Apple has done for communications, entertainment, application distribution, music and more: it completely changes the game with simple, efficient, easy to use tools.
To run a medical study today, researchers reach out to potential participants via everything from ads to letters and emails to posters and flyers. The yield from those efforts are typically low. As one researcher pointed out in a ResearchKit promotional video, “We have sent out over 60,000 letters. Those 60,000 letters have netted 305 women.”  The next step involves meeting with each and every participant to go over risks and benefits and other paperwork which can take up to 30 minutes per participant.
ResearchKit changes this process on all levels. First, researchers create an app (more on this below), release it and then get the word out. To participate, iPhone users just download the app from the AppStore, use an electronic sign in process to provide the necessary permissions and then start providing data. The apps turn the iPhone into a medical data collection tool for self-reported input such as energy levels, cognitive abilities and mood (for a post-chemotherapy study on breast cancer survivors) or iPhone sensor input for balance, memory and gait (for a study on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease).
This outreach and sign up process has already proven successful. In just one month, Mt. Sinai’s Asthma Health app enrolled 7,500 asthma sufferers.  Apple also reported that more than 60,000 patients have signed up for the five ResearchKit apps released in April.
What about privacy?
Apple made other smart moves with ResearchKit. Once a user inputs data, names are replaced with a random code and the anonymized data is sent on to the scientists and physicians working on the study.
While the apps reside on Apple’s AppStore servers so consumers know where and how to download them, the data they provide is not only de-identified, it also bypasses Apple’s servers and goes straight to the research institution conducting the study. This control over the data allows those institutions to provide their own security and ensure that ResearchKit apps fit with their technology and complies with their regulations.
This control also allows researchers to integrate ResearchKit data with other information. For example, one company has opened its cloud-based clinical study platform so that data from a ResearchKit can be integrated with other clinical trials data. Some of that information might come from third-party health and fitness apps created with HealthKit. To protect that data, Apple is using IBM’s HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud.
A New World of Developers
Not surprisingly, the world of medical research is agog over the power and reach of ResearchKit. It doesn’t just support the collection of more data, it supports the collection of big data with its unprecedented reach to millions of iPhone users. Cell phone development is new to the target audience for ResearchKit, which includes researchers that typically don’t have the budget to build tools like electronic consent systems. By providing the pre-built classes to handle these tasks, ResearchKit allows developers to focus on areas that require their medical research expertise and knowledge.
One Yale University doctor is already hard at work coding one of those apps. Pediatric cardiologist E. Kevin Hall, who has always had twin interests in medicine and computer science, is now building an app to engage his patients and learn more about how they cope with everyday life. Hall says he wants to augment the “brief 20- or 30-minute visits” he has with patients every few weeks or even months with the data the app will collect. 
Hall aims to build a complete picture of patient health using the iPhone’s accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and barometer to assess patient fitness, for example. Hall hopes that, once released, his app will help other pediatric cardiologists better understand their patients and ultimately improve their care.
Improved care is the ultimate benefit of mobile and connected health. The marriage of health care with smartphones and tablets not only gives providers immediate access to patient information, but also gives today’s patients new tools to track their own health and communicate more efficiently with providers. ResearchKit is just another example of the increasingly rich world of digital health offerings that are transforming health care.
Mike Colombo oversees all areas of Calgary Scientific’s marketing strategy, branding, communications and demand generation. Mike brings over 20 years of experience connecting marketing strategies and sales execution. Prior to Calgary Scientific, Mike spent 13 years with design software leader Autodesk in a variety of marketing leadership positions.
Sources: http://www.apple.com/researchkit/?cid=wwa-us-kwg-iphone-com  https://www.yahoo.com/tech/apples-researchkit-takes-medical-research-years-117781601479.html  http://www.buzzfeed.com/stephaniemlee/this-yale-doctor-is-coding-his-own-iphone-health-app#.ii6kkrApyY
The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of MassDevice.com or its employees.