Introduction

ResearchKit is an open source software framework designed for medical research, which facilitates the development of mHealth apps and the collection of a wide range of scientific data.

Thus, ResearchKit allows users from all over the world to participate actively in research, and in addition, it gives experts the unique opportunity to use the full capabilities of iPhone to explore the healthcare field (“ResearchKit Framework Programming Guide,” 2017).

All that converts ResearchKit into a leading diagnostic tool, and consequently, it transforms Apple into a digital health pillar.

            Foundations: ResearchKit, based on the solid foundations of Apple and orientated towards the future perspectives of medicine, is more than impressive. Launched by Apple in March 2015 and shipped with iOS 8.3, ResearchKit can be described as a continuation of HealthKit (Zens et al., 2017). In simple words, HealthKit is a framework that helps Health apps within HealthKit send information to each other, which can be analyzed further by a medical practitioner.

Purpose: To be more precise, ResearchKit is an iPhone application development framework designed for research in the field of healthcare. Unlike other systems, ResearchKit is more tech advanced and user-friendly. As Apple CEO Tim Cook stated, “ResearchKit is going to transform medical research.” By letting experts create medical research apps, ResearchKit eliminates paperwork, facilitates recruitment, and tracks everyday activities in order to collect medical data for research.

Availability: Its open-source framework facilitates research, transparency, data collection, and research management. It doesn’t require additional hardware or any complicated installation steps. Simply because ResearchKit uses Apple devices, apps, and cloud data platforms. Note that its source code is distributed under an open license via GitHub (Zens et al., 2017) and in general, Xcode is required to develop iOS apps. So, although ResearchKit was intended for developers at influential academic and medical institutions, such as Stanford Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, ResearchKit is available for everyone now.

Parties: As an open source software tool, ResearchKit can benefit researchers, developers, practitioners, and patients. In the end, ResearchKit is all about data, and experts can collect and manage information from people all over the world (“Apple ResearchKit: Everything you need to know about the medical research platform,” 2017). First of all, developers can use the platform to create apps that can gather information or collect existing data from devices, such as Apple Watch. On the other hand, patients can download newly developed health apps within the ResearchKit base (from the App Store) and participate in a study. Users can also allow access to data from Apple Health app. Consequently, practitioners can use the collected data and provide treatment and support.

Features: To be more specific, to allow collaboration and guarantee the success of huge clinical trials, ResearchKit has been created with some crucial features that keep improving (“What Is Apple’s ResearchKit and Why Is It Important?” 2015):

  • ResearchKit is an open source.
  • It offers integration with Apple’s HealthKit.
  • ResearchKit consists of survey management, informed consent, and active tasks.
  • It allows workflow control between users and researchers.

Tapping Speed

9-Hole Peg

Tone Audiometry

Sustained Phonation

Reaction Time

Tower of Hanoi

Paced Serial Addition Test (PSAT)

Spatial Memory

Timed Walk

Fitness

Finger Tapping Test

Gait & Balance

Range of Motion

Stroop Effect

Trail Making Test

What Does Research Kit Contain?

As mentioned above, ResearchKit is a platform designed for health apps that collect medical data for wider research. Note that data can be entered manually or automatically. As a research tool, ResearchKit consists of three customizable modules to answer all demands of medical research and traditional on-site studies: informed consent forms, surveys, and real-time tasks.

Modules: Consent forms are a crucial component of research as confidentiality, transparency, and safety of data are a must in medicine. Surveys may provide vital information, subjective and objective data, and feedback. On the other hand, extracting information from active tasks conducted in real-time is crucial not only for research but treatment. Such tasks can vary from tapping motor activities to phonation voice tests (Ritter, 2015). As Apple provides a wide range of sensors, such as motion tracking, and collection options, such as heart rate, ResearchKit is an advanced application development framework.

Modules & Developers: To be more specific, developers can use the existing modules or build on them (“ResearchKit Framework Programming Guide,” 2017). The survey modules have a localized interface, so all researchers need is to create their own questions. The ResearchKit framework also let researchers customize consent templates.  Last but not least, when creating active tasks, developers can use the full capabilities of the HealthKit and CoreMotion, sparing them extra costs and efforts. As saving progress is an included function (and all steps and tasks generate results in the task view controller), data collected cannot be lost.

How Does ResearchKit Work?

To understand research areas of interest, such as fitness, speech, and motor impairments, ResearchKit can get information from the user’s iPhone and its GPS sensors, microphone, etc. As stated earlier, data can be entered either manually or automatically. After consent, data can be shared with research institutions and practitioners.

Again, note that ResearchKit is created for software developers and investigators to design new health-related iPhone apps. Consequently, users can download apps within ResearchKit. Only if the subjects are willing to get an app and participate in a study, the information collected by their devices will be shared with experts.

To sum up, health apps designed via ResearchKit will collect research data, such as blood pressure and weight, which after consent will be shared with third-party devices and researchers. As a result, ResearchKit could improve research and treatment.

Benefits

  • In its first year, has Apple’s ResearchKit revolutionized medical research?” 2016)
  • Real-time data: In addition, data is not only accurate but available at all times, which facilities not only research but treatment.
  • Consent forms: Following the ethics of research is crucial; and with its consent forms, ResearchKit is a convenient and ethical research tool.
  • Multi-center approach: By having access to big data sets and different aspects of a specific disease, including environmental issues, a multi-center approach can be facilitated.
  • Easy to use: With its easy-to-read dashboard and clear modules, ResearchKit is a dream for developers and users too.
  • Cost-effective: As explained above, developers can use the existing modules on ResearchKit to create surveys, consent forms, and tasks, which makes the development of research apps cost-effective. In fact, the modular design concept of ResearchKit reduces the initial development cost and maintenance of apps (Zens et al., 2017).

Applications

ResearchKit opens many scientific doors to the future of medicine. First of all, it helps developers design new apps, which can gather, access and send data to medical experts.

With ResearchKit, researchers can recruit big samples and diverse participants, without limiting their choice to demographics and location.

ResearchKit can be used across a wide variety of domains, such as studies about asthma, Parkinson’s, and cancer. In fact, prior launching ResearchKit, Apple worked with five institutions to develop five ResearchKit apps: to explore the cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and asthma. These apps, respectively, are MyHeart Counts, mPower, GlucoSuccess, Share the Journey, and Asthma Health (“List of all ResearchKit apps,” 2016).

ResearchKit helps scientists understand not only the nature of today’s diseases but all the social and environmental factors contributing risks.

Of course, ResearchKit provides systematized and secure bi-directional data, which can be easily included in mHealth journals and publications (Chan et al., 2017).

Limitations & Perspectives

ResearchKit is an innovate framework that facilitates data collection and research. However, as any tech creation, it raises some questions. Some of the main concerns are the abundance of data collected, recruitment bias, and data security. Nevertheless, the wide reach of iOS devices can only enrich research and reach younger participants. What’s more, by having active users, supported by push-notification options, will give researchers more time to analyze data – instead of recruiting participants and ensuring eligibility criteria. Last but not the least, ResearchKit has integrated the main ethics of research, so by providing a secure connection between apps and servers, research institutions will have their data stored safely.

To sum up, RsearchKit is an easy-to-use framework designed to develop health apps. With its effective programming environment and modules, ResearchKit is a powerful research tool, which can be applied to care and treatment. In fact, CareKit (“Apple ResearchKit and CareKit: Everything you need to know,” 2016) is another open-source framework introduced by Apple to tackle treatment, family support, and medical care.

With the digital shift in medicine, patients are becoming the main component in research. And Apple gives everyone the chance to participate.

References

Chan, Y., Wang, P., Rogers, L., Tignore, N., Zweig, M., Hershman, S., Genes, N., Scott, E., Krock, E., Bagdeley, M., Edgar, R., Violante, S., Wright, R., Powell, C., Dudley, J., & Schadt, E. (2017). The Asthma Mobile Health Study, a large-scale clinical observational study using ResearchKit. Nature Biotechnology, 35, 354-362.

Ritter, S. (2015). Apple’s Research Kit Development Framework for iPhone Apps Enables Innovative Approaches to Medical Research Data Collection. Journal of Clinical Trials.

Zens, M., Woias, P., Suedkamp, N., & Niemeyer, P. (2017). “Back on Track”: A Mobile App Observational Study Using Apple’s ResearchKit Framework.

Apple ResearchKit and CareKit: Everything you need to know (2016, March) Retrieved from http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/133132-apple-researchkit-and-carekit-everything-you-need-to-know

Apple ResearchKit: Everything you need to know about the medical research platform (2017, June). Retrieved from https://www.wareable.com/saves-the-day/what-is-apple-researchkit-iphone-watch-everything-you-need-to-know-931

In its first year, has Apple’s ResearchKit revolutionized medical research? (2016, March). Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3058125/in-its-first-year-has-apples-researchkit-revolutionized-medical-research

List of all ResearchKit apps (2016). Retrieved from  http://blog.shazino.com/articles/science/researchkit-list-apps/

ResearchKit Framework Programming Guide (2017, September). Retrieved from http://researchkit.org/docs/docs/Overview/GuideOverview.html

What Is Apple’s ResearchKit and Why Is It Important?  (2015, March). Retrieved from  https://www.sitepoint.com/apples-researchkit-important/