Posted by:Richard Smith October 8th, 2015

Clinical Research, iPhone Features and Contextual Data

Conventional clinical research is still paper and pen based. At least, that part of research where researchers collect data from patient/participants has not changed in 50 years!

Apple’s latest open source framework ResearchKit makes us think about how this can be changed. At its core this is a software framework, which is a library of files for developers, but the philosophy it carries is something new and very relevant for clinical researchers and participants.

Importance of Contextual data

If you look at the old school way of research, usually there will be periodic questionnaires sent through mail or e-mail to patients/participants to which they are expected to respond.This is a very primitive way of collecting data to say the least. The chances of participants responding for extended periods of time are very less. Moreover, in this method the researchers have to trust the participants and the accuracy of his answers.

Thus a research study with data collected using the conventional method may not always yield accurate results.This is where the relevance of contextual data and the method of data gathering kicks in.With the smartphone in the picture, researchers now have an unique opportunity to gather data from the natural environment that participants are in.

For example, there are a lot of studies carried out on obesity and food habits specific to a particular race, age, economic background etc. In this case, a researcher can benefit from having a mobile app which will ask participants about what they eat, how much they eat and ask them to share pictures of what they eat. The data gathered here is contextual, relevant and accurate and will result in meaningful study outcomes. Also, the participant will find it easy to contribute without having to sit down and write them as answers.

Smartphone features and why they are irresistible.

The innate features and sensors make smartphone a powerful research tool (As Apple says!)

Digitization of clinical surveys

Tell me who likes writing answers to 4 page long survey questions and how accurate those answers will be? The boring questions could be made interesting and interactive by digitizing them.

For example, let’s say there is a question on how you are feeling today? Simple emoji’s like J or L will make the entire question and answer session a lot more fun. One more benefit is that the researcher will get instantaneous statistics and need not manually count how many happy participants are out there today.

Features like Sensors, Mic & GPS

Leveraging in-built sensors of smartphones will take research to next level. This will provide a new set of contextual data which were not at all possible before. Let’s say there is a research which needs a physical activity to be carried out. With accelerometer, pedometer and gyroscope minute details like changes in heights, counting steps, time taken to complete task and a lot of more information can be gathered.

Microphone can be used to record the voice. This can also be used to check the mood of the participants which is of great importance in certain research studies like Parkinson disease.

GPS has multiple applications like knowing the location of participant/patient when there is an emergency or to know how body conditions change when there is a change in geography (like altitude, weather etc.)

Enter wearable tech

As the name suggests the wearable tech adds another strong tooth to research.

For example, Apple Watch will give accurate information about the participants’ heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature etc. and can also be used to measure sleep patterns. There are also smaller features like push notifications, reminders, video demonstration, simple consent process etc. which will be of great value.

In conclusion, what mobility can do in research studies/clinical trials is evoke active participation and collect data without invading the privacy of the participant. This is where Apple’s ResearchKit fits in perfectly.

Click below to learn more and to get started on YOUR ResearchKit app today !

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