Apple’s New ResearchKit Brings New Meaning to an Apple a Day Keeping the Doctor Away

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Originally reported by Wired Magazine, after a presentation by Apple Vice President of Operations, Jeff Williams, they poised the question, Can Apple’s ResearchKit Really Change Medical Research? 

Medical Researchers + iPhones Users

The problem ResearchKit hopes to solve is how to move around big data about disease. The proposed solution was presented in a roll out of five apps by independent researchers, to study an assortment of complicated diseases.

“All of the ResearchKit apps use a combination of questionnaires and basic data your phone collects—for example, using your phone’s accelerometer to count how many steps you’ve taken as a measure of physical activity. If you have a wearable like the Apple Watch, it can measure how your heart rate changes while exercising. The mPower app, which tracks Parkinson’s disease, uses the iPhone touch screen to measure hand tremors and the microphone to gauge voice trembling.”

This is where Apple comes in. The best case scenario in research involves studies with wide berths of study participants. And when this happens, that’s great, because it allows researchers to really get their study on. But in the same way that I for example, would say that a top 12 list is more interesting than a top 10 list, the same principle applies, thousands of subjects is fantastic, but 700 million or so (the estimated number of people who own iPhones worldwide) would be more fantastic.

Selection Bias Much?

The data comes from iPhone users only (and as Wired points out, “smartphone users skew toward the young, wealthy, and Asians and whites. Not exactly representative.”), furthermore, in the same way all us Android users have to wait for our version of new apps, for the time being the same applies in this new innovative medical data collection method. As far as bias goes anything, they are a troublesome fact of life to certain degrees in research no matter what. But as it researches are quick to point out, the bigger scale you can do, the smaller challenges of selection bias become. (we’ll see though…as Wired writes, “regardless of platform, smartphone

It May Be Preliminary Now, But Wait For It

Scientific research data is supposed to be (obviously) more accurate than what a typical wearable device can reasonably provide. It’s a challenge everyone knows, but the real objective is simply accessibly that data variety in the first place. First comes collection, and then comes critical evaluation.

With time, could these, apps represent the future of medicine?


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Writer and curator of interesting12, Maggie is a DC based writer with a heart for nonprofits, a passion for complicated people, and lover of all things well designed and well said. This former longtime LA resident is a firm believer we should be challenging ourselves to discuss what affect us in this world and how. She’s opinionated, a teller of both sides of the story, and some say she’s clever.