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Virtually Interactive Medical Research – Wave of the Future?

Virtually Interactive Medical Research – Wave of the Future?

There have been many exciting announcements this year regarding new technologies launched to accelerate medical research that involve the direct virtual participation of individuals.

The latest announcement from Apple has people stirring about the potential of their new software platform, ResearchKit, to gather unprecedented amounts of data for clinical research. It works with the previously developed HealthKit framework, to tap into a user’s health information for medical research purposes.

This open-source platform enables researchers to easily design and implement apps for studies on health conditions. Leading research institutions have already jumped on board to create disease-specific apps for studies on asthma,, breast cancer, and diabetes. Within a few hours of launching the Parkinson’s disease app, mPower, there were already over 7000 study participants registered; and within 24 hours of launching a study for cardiovascular disease at Stanford University, 11,000 people had signed up.

Although it is not quite the same as meeting a physician or researcher in person, it can provide valuable insight into a person’s lifestyle, habits, disease risks, even motor impairments – as well as encourage lifestyle changes and advice for chronic disease management. One of the biggest hurdles for researchers is the recruitment of patients for clinical trials, so this tool could provide an immense leap forward in reaching out to possible participants.

Not everyone is satisfied with ResearchKit, however. Concerns have been raised about informed consent, eligibility requirements, lack of diversity from the iPhone demographic, quality of information gathered that may be adding noise and distraction; and of course, concerns about the privacy and security of an individual’s data.

Since ResearchKit is still in early phase release, we should expect to hear more thorough answers from Apple about these concerns before it becomes available to developers next month.


The Verge “Apple’s new ResearchKit: ‘Ethics quagmire’ or medical research aid?

Nature News Q&A “Smartphones set to boost large-scale health studies