Apple ResearchKit is coming up on its one-year birthday very shortly and what a year it has been for the framework.
From the initial set of 5 Apps introduced along with the release of the framework last April, the number of apps now using RK has grown to almost 25 with new apps introduced almost every month. Besides the apps that directly use RK, the larger benefit has also been the conversation it has generated in the research community that tends to be very cautious and slow to adopt any kind of change.
Even though the early adoption of RK has largely been limited to academia, the breadth of applications and the innovation it has sparked has been very remarkable.
The ‘user centric research’ movement has never had a better champion. Apple ResearchKit is also inspiring imitations. Cornell Tech is about to release ResearchStack – an SDK and UX framework that will mirror the functionality of ResearchKit on Android. There is also an ionic framework that provides majority of the Consent and Survey module functionality and will over time add selective Active Tasks. The ionic framework can be used to create multi-platform apps and BTC is currently working on developing the first app using this framework.
As an open source framework, Apple ResearchKit has seen number of additions to it by developer community over last few months:
1. New Active Tasks have been added
PSAT (Paced Serial Addition Test) is used to measure auditory and/or visual information processing speed, flexibility and calculation ability of the participant by asking user to add single digits that appear on subsequent screens within an interval of 2-3 seconds
Reaction time as the name suggests measures the time it takes for the user to respond to a visual cue on the device
Tone Audiometry task measures ability of the users to hear different sounds by tracking their response (in form of taps on a button within the app) to audio tones in different audio frequencies as well as on different channels
Timed walk task measures users lower-extremity functions by asking them to walk a specific distance briskly but safely. It’s a bit different than the fitness and short walk tasks in that the distance it asks the user to walk is always fixed
2. Chart classes are now available for use in RK apps.These classes allow creating five different types of charts – Pie chart, Line graph, multiple line graph, discrete graph (used to display data within a defined range), and discrete graph with multiple points (useful to show relationship between multiple types of discrete values within a defined range)
Apple also has continued to put its weight behind the ResearchKit framework over last year with collaborations with multiple leading academic institutions and provider organizations. It just announced addition of a new module (developed by 23andme) to the framework. This module will allow study participants to contribute their genetic data to medical research in a fairly seamless way. Users who already have their generic information with 23andme can chose to contribute that information to two existing research studies being conducted with two existing RK apps – My Heart Counts app (cardiovascular disease study by Stanford) and Asthma Health app (Asthma study by Mt. Sinai).
These apps will combine user-generated data (from participants use of the app) with their genetic data (from 23andme). The Stanford study for example will look at how a participant’s predisposition to heart conditions combined with their activity and lifestyle choices relate to cardiovascular health. Fascinating stuff. Though this will surely bring up many questions and conversations around privacy, dangers of mass-based research and reach of big corporations into personal health domain – all valid concerns.
Apple also announced a new framework called ‘CareKit’ that will enable companies like BTC build apps that will allow users to manage their medical conditions by regularly tracking symptoms and medications and communicating with the care team. The framework itself will be available later this spring but there are already a couple of apps being worked on using it – one for managing postsurgical care and another for managing chronic conditions.
We are looking to be one of the early adopters of the framework when it becomes available and I will surely share more information as it becomes available.
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