Two Years In, What Has Apple ResearchKit Accomplished?

Kate Sheridan | STAT | May 26, 2017

In March 2015, Apple promised to change the way medical research could be done. It launched ResearchKit, which could turn millions of iPhones around the world into a “powerful tool for medical research,” the company said at the time. Since then, ResearchKit — software that gives would-be app developers a library of coding to create health apps on the iPhone and Apple Watch — has spawned a number of studies: One team has used it to create an app to track Parkinson’s symptoms; another is trying out a screening protocol for autism. A third helps people inventory the moles on their skin and evaluate how they have changed over time.

Many of these apps have been downloaded tens of thousands of times, benefitting from Apple’s own huge scale. “Virtually overnight, the research studies that we launched became some of the largest in history,” said Jeff Williams, then Apple’s senior vice president of operations, at an Apple event in March 2016. But much of the early research scientists were doing with ResearchKit wasn’t clinical in nature; rather it simply studied the feasibility of using mobile apps to collect health data.

Now, however, ResearchKit seems to be on the verge of becoming medically useful. In recent months scientists have published new data on seizures, asthma attacks, and heart disease using the platform. And scientists are already looking ahead to the next milestone for the technology: hacking our ubiquitous mobile devices to become potentially lifesaving medical monitors. For epilepsy patients and their doctors, precise answers to standard questions can be hard to get. For example: How many seizures happened in the last month? How many doses of epilepsy medication were skipped?...