You’ve heard the latest Apple Watch claims and seen the advance sales numbers. No stranger to grand pronouncements about their products, this very “personal” one, the company says, can run its own apps, connect with iPhones, and be both a fashion and status statement.

But, why should you in the medical device industry care about a smartwatch?

Last month, when the watch rolled out, so did the Apple ResearchKit, an open source software framework that, the company says, will make it easy for researchers and developers to create apps, which “could revolutionize medical studies.” Current iPhones 5 and 6 can become medical diagnostic tools with the use of apps that tap into the sensors already in phones.

Recruiting large numbers of study participants has always been difficult. ResearchKit, they say, could allow people to sign up for a study no matter where in the world they live. While the 700 million iPhones currently in circulation are already able to track movement, and measure and record information, linking millions of users across the globe could potentially allow researchers to increase study sample sizes and gather new types of objective, accurate, and precise data on a scale not previously imagined. Apple also says that it is working with the FDA for any needed regulations.

Five apps are already available that can be used to help diagnose and assess the risks of various disorders. The mPower app to gauge the effects of Parkinson’s disease was developed with the University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks. mPower can help determine if patients have Parkinson’s by listening to them speak, measuring their walking, and searching for tremors when they touch the screen. The others include: Asthma Health from Mount Sinai Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College, and LifeMap, which can help participants manage their asthma and tracks symptom patterns; GlucoSuccess, a diabetes diagnostic app from Massachusetts General Hospital, which can let users see how their diet and activities affect their blood glucose levels; MyHeart Counts, from Stanford Medicine and the University of Oxford, which can be used to diagnose a user’s risks of cardiovascular disease; and Share the Journey, created by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Penn Medicine, and Sage Bionetworks, which attempts to help understand long-term effects of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.

Of course in terms of style, technology, and animated motion watch faces, the watch sets itself apart. For more on how aesthetics influence purchasing, read the article.

So, will the Apple Watch and ResearchKit live up to the hype? Now that it’s here, let’s see what a motivated research community can do with it.

Beth G. Sisk


Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2015 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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