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Apple’s ResearchKit Is Revolutionizing Medical Studies

ResearchKit, Apple’s proprietary medical research system, just received some encouraging news as to its accuracy and reliability.

A team of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai analyzed data pulled from the Asthma Mobile Health Study, a research program that relies on a ResearchKit-powered app called Asthma Health. The researchers found that the data from the program, which was first launched in March 2015, was found to be in line with existing medical studies on asthma patients, according to results published in Nature Biotechnology.

Due to its apparent accuracy and reliability, the researchers concluded that ResearchKit is “particularly suitable for studies of short duration that require rapid enrollment across diverse geographical locations, request data collection, and real-time feedback to participants,” according to Yvonne Chan, a digital health director at Mount Sinai. “Our study demonstrates the power of mobile health tools to scale and accelerate clinical research so that we can derive the evidence needed to inform clinical practice and improve patient care.”

The report is a victory for the viability of smartphone-based medical research. According to the results, around 50,000 iPhone owners downloaded Asthma Health — around 7,600 of whom enrolled in a six-month study involving surveys that measured how patients treated their asthma, as well as location and air quality data. Researchers were able to correlate this external data with worsening asthma symptoms — around the time that wildfires plagued Washington state, for example, they saw participants report worse symptoms. The researchers were able to do so with other factors as well, such as heat and pollen.

There are limitations to smartphone-based studies, however. Firstly is that they tend to have low retention rates — about 85 percent of people completed at least one survey, with only 30 percent completing more than one over six months. That means incomplete information from certain participants over the course of the research. Additionally, the surveys were self-filled — an infamously unreliable source of information for medical research data, The Verge points out.

Still, the study’s results are a reassuring sign that data derived from ResearchKit is reliable, and will be able to help foster medical research down the road. And the platform isn’t just being used for asthma, either. There are several studies that rely on ResearchKit, including one that analyzes seizure triggers in epilepsy patients, according to Fortune.


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