Apple Announces New Major Foray into Health Care Remote Tech

This week, Apple, Inc. (NASDAQ: APPL) unveiled its newest product offering in health care-related technology, for which it plans to transform the iPhone into a diagnostic tool.

Health and wellness took center stage during a live event hosted by Apple on Monday, where the company showcased several new products coming to market soon, including its newest new tech solution for medical research, ResearchKit, and the much hyped Apple Watch.

A software framework made specifically for medical research, the ResearchKit platform allows researchers to create apps and essentially turn their iPhones, as well as Apple’s HealthKit, into diagnostic tools.

When granted permission by the user, apps can access data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by other third-party devices and apps.

HealthKit, which allows apps that provide health and fitness services to share their data with the new Health app and with each other, laid the foundation for what would become ResearchKit. The new tech was born out of Apple’s discussions with various medical experts.

“The conversation often turned to research and some of the challenges they [experts] faced in a process that really hasn’t changed in decades, and we thought we could help,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, during Monday’s live event.

Things like recruiting people to partake in studies, communication flow, subjective and infrequent data were some of the key challenges highlighted during these talks, all of which led to the development of ResearchKit.

Using ResearchKit, users can decide if they want to participate in a study and their data is shared. Those who do participate studies can then complete tasks or submit surveys right from the app, so researchers can spend less time on paperwork and more time on analyzing data.

“iOS apps already help millions of customers track and improve their health. With hundreds of millions of iPhones around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research.”

In developing the new platform, Apple has worked with experts from various health care institutions to build the first five apps, each targeted at some of the world’s most serious diseases, Williams said, such as Parkinson’s Disease, breast cancer and asthma.

Partners in the development of ResearchKit included Stanford Medicine, Sage Bionetworks, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, to name a few.

Developed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and LifeMap Solutions, the Asthma Health App tracks symptom patterns in an individual and potential triggers for these exacerbations to help researchers learn new ways to personalize asthma treatment.

The Share the Journey app is a research study that aims to understand why some breast cancer survivors recover faster than others, why their symptoms vary over time and what can be done to improve symptoms.

The app will use surveys and data on iPhone to collect and track fatigue, mood and cognitive changes, sleep disturbances and reduction in exercise. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Penn Medicine, Sage Bionetworks and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center helped Apple in developing the app.

Developed by Stanford Medicine, the MyHeat Counts ap measures activity and uses risk factor and survey information to help researchers more accurately evaluate how a participant’s activity and lifestyle relate to cardiovascular health. By understanding these relationships on a broad scale, Apple hopes will help researchers be able to better understand how to keep hearts healthier.

The GlucoSuccess, developed by Massachusetts General Hospital, app intends to understand how various aspects of a person’s life — diet, physical activity and medications — affect blood glucose levels. The app can also help participants identify how their food choices and activity relate to the best glucose levels, enabling them to see correlations and take more active roles in managing their own well-being.

Lastly, the Parkinson mPower app, developed by Sage Bionetworks and the University of Rochester, helps people living with Parkinson’s disease track their symptoms by recording activities using sensors in the iPhone. Activity and survey date from one’s phone are combined with data from many other participants to fuel Parkinson’s research on a large scale, which Apple notes is the world’s largest and most comprehensive study of the disease.

“Perhaps the most profound change and positive impact that iPhone will make is on our health,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “And as we worked on HealthKit, we came across a broader impact that iPhone could make, and that is on medical research.”

Monday’s event also heralded the approaching release of the Apple Watch, which will hit the market April 24.

As one of the newest gadgets in Apple’s family of products, the Apple Watch employs a number of health, wellness and fitness features that appeal not only to high-tech health nuts, but have implications for senior care.

“It’s the most personal device we have ever created,” said Cook. “It’s not just with you, it’s on you.”

ResearchKit will be released next month as an open source framewok, while the Apple Watch will be available in nine countries beginning April 24, including the U.S., UK, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia.

Apple will begin accepting pre-orders for the device April 10. Also starting that day, the company will also offer previews of the gadget to the general public at its Apple Stores.

Pricing for the device varies depending on which of the three Apple Watch collections. At the lowest end, the Apple Watch Sport will run between $349 and $399; Apple Watch will be available from $549 to $1,099; and Apple Watch Edition, which is crafted from custom rose or yellow 18-karat gold alloys, runs at prices starting at $10,000.

“We continue to innovate. We continue to push forward,” Cook said. “All of our energy is on making the best products in the world that empower people, that enrich their lives. This is what Apple is all about and this is what everyone in Apple is focused on.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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