Apple's New Update Revolutionizes Medical Research

by Melanie Schmitz

The next wave of healthcare-related consumer technology has arrived. At a global launch event on Monday, tech giant Apple released a series of exciting new creations, including the highly anticipated Apple Watch, a new gold-colored Macbook, and perhaps the most exciting of all, ResearchKit, an open-source platform that will revolutionize the medical research industry. The health-app update will most likely be released sometime next month, reports NASDAQ.

It's an efficacious development in terms of user functionality, and while the Apple Watch and the gold laptop might be more tangible (and more envy-inducing), ResearchKit will likely prove more valuable in the long run.

During Monday's event, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations Jeff Williams explained the sudden jump into the world of healthcare, indicating that, with hundreds of millions of iPhones sold (700 million to be exact), the company felt it was time to put that technology to good use, rather than simply providing tiny screens on which to angrily play Fruit Ninja.

One of the biggest challenges facing healthcare researchers, explained Williams, was recruitment. "[Researchers] often have to pay people to participate," said Williams. "The bigger issue is small sample sizes — sometimes 50-100 people — which limits our understanding of diseases." With the new ResearchKit update, Apple hopes to change that, as well as address multiple auxiliary problems that contribute to slowed progress, such as subjective data, data frequency, and stalled communication flow.

"When you're participating in a study, you often don't hear back until the very end of the study, if at all," said Williams. "We looked at these problems and we saw an opportunity to help."

Using open-ended technology, ResearchKit, which was developed in coordination with experts from 12 separate institutions including the University of Oxford and Stanford, affords medical teams the ability to create apps of their own for large-scale distribution, reported TechCrunch on Monday. By creating their own apps and pinning them to the Apple platform, researchers would be able to customize data testing exactly the way they need to net a more adequate and appropriate amount of responses. Employing an easy-to-use interface, the new development shortens delivery and response time between the research teams and patients.

Already, a handful of collaborators have produced their own research apps to be released with the update, including Mount Sinai Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College's Asthma Health app, which promotes education of the disease and provides self-monitoring; Massachusetts General Hospital's GlucoSuccess app, which tracks blood glucose levels in diabetic patients; and the Share the Journey app, which was developed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, UCLA School of Public Health, Penn Medicine, and Sage Bionetworks, and provides a network of care and support to breast cancer patients, reported Wired on Monday.

Using the apps, patients will be able to easily sign consent forms, view tests, and relay their own medical results via a series of tests and evaluations. Data will also be transmitted from other Apple products, like the iPhone, the Apple Watch, and other fitness or health devices. Users who are concerned about privacy can rest easy as well: according to Williams, any information sent using ResearchKit apps won't be shared with Apple, reported The Verge.

Apple's latest releases and updates signal a monumental shift in the relationship between healthcare professionals and their patients. At this rate, it won't be long before the tech experts are able to deploy armies of nano-robots right through your phone's earpiece to diagnose the cause of your headache — at least we can cross our fingers and wish really hard.

Images: Apple Inc. screenshots