In March 2015, Apple announced ResearchKit. The digital tool aims to help researchers gather and study an unprecedented amount of health data through the hundreds of millions of powerful computers that people carry in their pockets or purses, and even wear on their wrists.
Now, one of first hospitals to partner with Apple on the effort has released its initial findings — and researchers seem impressed.
“We are delighted with the initial results we’ve seen after six months of using Apple’s ResearchKit framework for our Asthma Health app,” Eric Schadt, a genomic scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital, said in a press release by LifeMap Solutions, a company embedded in the hospital’s Icahn School of Medicine.
As one of the first partners of the ResearchKit program, Mount Sinai released Asthma Health, an app to help study asthma, educate asthmatics, and promote healthy behaviour.
Mount Sinai officials told Tech Insider that more than 8,600 people enrolled in the study, and 87% of study participants live outside of New York and New Jersey. They recruited a population beyond that of the hospital itself — something uncommon and hard-to-achieve that speaks to the broad potential reach of app-enabled research.
The hospital also says that more severe asthmatics enrolled in the study than would have been expected. It’s hard to engage with people with severe forms of a disease, but those people may have the most to benefit from what the study reveals.
And what of the data they have collected from asthma patients? A newly added function can now link that data into their electronic health records at Mount Sinai and certain other facilities and “may be of great value to the pulmonologists and other clinicians providing care,” according to the release.
Many of those people with more severe asthma were likelier to use the app, though researchers aren’t sure if that’s because participants wanted to contribute to research, appreciated the reminder or education functions, or for some other reason.
Regardless, those who used the app reported improved exercise capabilities. There was also evidence those who used the fitness tracker capability of ResearchKit on their phone got more of a workout.
There are still limitations to this type of research, though.
Dr. Yvonne Chan, a doctor and genomic scientist at Mount Sinai, told BuzzFeed News that study participants skewed toward being college-educated men who earn at least $US60,000 a year. That might be a group that can afford to buy iPhones and is interested in medical research, but it still doesn’t represent the full population.
Still, these are promising initial findings from the first ResearchKit team to start reporting data. Their results show — if nothing else — how software-enabled, phone-based studies could give researchers a major tool in unlocking the nature of and mechanisms behind disease.
As Dr. Chan told Tech Insider when ResearchKit first launched, “it is a new era.”
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