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Apple gains dominance in healthcare sector

Apple is gaining traction in the health and medical research space with ResearchKit, the open source software framework that’s designed to help doctors and scientists gather data more frequently and accurately from participants using iPhone apps.

According to Apple, research institutions have already developed apps with ResearchKit for studies on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

When granted permission by the user, third-party devices and apps that utilise the ResearchKit framework can provide data on such things as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use.

ResearchKit can also request permission to access the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in iPhone to gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory. 

Apple says ResearchKit enables researchers to access information about a broad cross-section of the population to carry out large-scale studies, and can reduce time spent on paperwork as users complete tasks and submit surveys through the app.

HealthKit, a software framework Apple introduced with iOS 8, provides developers with the ability to create health and fitness apps that communicate with each other.

“iOS apps already help millions of customers track and improve their health. With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research,” says Jeff Williams, Apple senior vice president of operations.

“ResearchKit gives the scientific community access to a diverse, global population and more ways to collect data than ever before,” he says.   

“We’re excited to use these new ResearchKit tools from Apple to expand participant recruitment and quickly gather even more data through the simple use of an iPhone app.

“The data it will provide takes us one step closer to developing more personalised care,” says Patricia Ganz, UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center MD, professor.

“Access to more diverse patient-reported health data will help us learn more about long-term after effects of cancer treatments and provide us with a better understanding of the breast cancer patient experience,” Ganz says. 

The Share the Journey app, developed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Penn Medicine, Sage Bionetworks and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, is a research study that aims to understand why some breast cancer survivors recover faster than others, why their symptoms vary over time and what can be done to improve symptoms.

Share the Journey will use surveys and sensor data on iPhone to collect and track fatigue, mood and cognitive changes, sleep disturbances and reduction in exercise. 

Other significant apps that use ResearchKit is Asthma Health, developed by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and LifeMap Solutions; MyHeart Counts by Stanford Medicine; GlucoSuccess by Massachusetts General Hospital; and the Parkinson mPower app that was developed by Sage Bionetworks and the University of Rochester.

ResearchKit apps are available on the App Store in the US and will be rolling out to more countries in the future.

iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and the latest generation of iPod touch support ResearchKit apps.