Improve your medical research apps

Apple's new framework ResearchKit, released in March 2015, makes it easy to develop apps that can perform medical research, improving participation levels, providing objective data and providing it frequently and quickly.

The iPhone has now sold it's 700 millionth phone and it's the most popular smartphone in the world. Since it's introduction to the world in 2007 there's no doubt that the iPhone has changed the world. We are all now usually within an arms reach of our smartphones, whether that's to take a selfie with our cute dog or to send a message to our friend the other side of the world. The latest iPhones now also contain a whole range of sensors which could be used to collect fantastic health information but there has been little work in this area, until now that is.


In early March 2015 Apple announced ResearchKit, a groundbreaking new open source framework that makes it easy for developers and researchers to create apps for medical research. The framework uses the sensors in the iPhone to track movement, take measurements, and record data. It also greatly simplifies the process of creating surveys and receiving informed consent. In partnership with Stanford Medicine, University of Oxford, Sage Bionetworks, and University of Rochester, Apple has developed modules of code for assessing motor activities, fitness, cognition and voice. As the framework is open source this is likely to be added to in time with developers coming up with ways to assess all sorts of activities. Given the sensors on the current iPhone and the introduction of Apple Watch, which introduces new sensors, there are really great opportunities here to do fantastic work.

What are the advantages?

There are some main areas where ResearchKit can make a big difference in medical research, all areas where researchers currently often struggle. These are:

  • Limited participation
  • Subjective data
  • Infrequent Data
  • One way communication

Increase participation levels

Limited participation is usually a big problem in medical research, often a cash incentive is required to get participants, which also doesn't help to get a good cross section of participants. There are currently 700 million iPhone users in the world. Many would contribute to medical research if it were just easier to do so. ResearchKit makes that possible.

Obtain objective data

Currently the most common way to assess parkinsons disease is to have a patient walk in front of the physician and the physician rates them on a scale of 0-4. This is completely subjective to each physician, unlike the data from an accelerometer which is precise and objective.

More frequent results

Disease symptoms ebb and flow daily and sometimes hourly, with an iPhone a patient can be prompted to provide data on a regular basis in a convenient manner, rather than rare, infrequent appointments to their inconvenience.

Two way communication

It's normal to only hear back at the end of the study, which is far from ideal. ResearchKit can send back data as it's being recorded. It can also enable researchers to prompt patients to perform more tests.

Case study - Parkinsons

So let's take a project from the University of Rochester, Xuanwu Hospital, Capital Medical University and Sage Bionetworks, who developed an app called mPower to help with Parkinsons Research.

First of all the app gets the patient's consent through a form and then signature.


The app can then perform a tapping test which assesses hand tremors.


It asks the patient to "Ahhh" into the microphone, the framework will then detect minute vocal chord variations that assesses the severity of parkinsons.


It can then perform a Gait and balance test using the iPhones accelerometer, getting the patient to walk 40 steps.


It then sends this information back to the researchers to see immediately and even provides some of this information to the patient so they can see, for example, any correlation in their fitness activity and symptoms, which some researchers think may be related. This enables the patient to see any possible correlations before the research is even completed.


Associations already using it

There are already many organisations using ResearchKit including:

  • University of Oxford
  • Stanford Medicine
  • Avon Foundation for Women
  • Michael J Fox Foundation For Parkinsons
  • Sage Bionetworks
  • Weill Cornell Medical College
  • And many others

How we can help

If you are interested in using ResearchKit to help conduct your medical research then get in touch using the form below, email us at or ring us on 0115 914 5839 and we can begin to talk about how we can work with you to develop an app that would enable you to perform better medical research.

Tagged in: Education Healthcare