Apple’s Advance Into Medical Research Targets Preventative Care

Apple's iPhone could transform medical research, the company said today, a process that hasn't seen much change in decades.

At its launch event in San Francisco Monday, Apple announced ResearchKit, a new software system that is targeted to the health sector. The company confirmed it's working with research institutions and hospitals, like Stanford University School of Medicine and Penn Medicine, to jointly develop a handful of medical research mobile applications.

The goal for these apps is to gather health and fitness data from the iPhone, such as heart rate and steps, which researchers can use to study the causes and potential treatments for disease. Stanford, for instance, has been working closely with Apple on an app called MyHeart Counts that will collect data from iPhone users about physical activity and various cardiac risk factors.

KQED Digital Health Editor Christina Farr spoke with Stephanie Martin today about the possibilities, and implications, of opting into health data collection on a smart phone. Listen below:

Apple stressed at the event that it will not sell people's data to pharmaceutical companies, advertisers or other third-parties, but the specifics of a privacy policy concerning health data are still unclear.

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ResearchKit isn't Apple's first foray into health and medicine. The iPhone maker previously rolled out HealthKit, a software system for mobile health developers, and it has a team of health advisers that it turns to for guidance.

Likely, ResearchKit will follow in HealthKit's footsteps by requiring that app developers secure patient's consent before mining their data.

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Apple also announced that it will start selling its smart watch, the Apple Watch, on April 26. The watch also boasts some health and fitness features, such as a basic heart rate monitor.

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