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Apple's New Health App, ResearchKit, Turns iPhone Into A Medical Research Tool

Apps will monitor symptoms and treatments for a variety of conditions.

Apple, building on last year’s announcement of a health data software app called HealthKit, today announced new software that will give iPhone users the option to participate in medical research.

Called ResearchKit, the software will allow iPhone users (all 700 million of them, which Apple underscored as it rattled off sales numbers) to participate in clinical health trials. With user consent, the apps within ResearchKit will grab data on everything from glucose levels to asthma symptoms to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as hand and voice tremors; and can monitor patients as they recover from treatments for illnesses such as breast cancer.

Apple’s senior vice president of operations, Jeff Williams, said onstage at an Apple event today that the process for medical research hasn’t really changed in decades. One big challenge is recruiting volunteers: Sometimes studies only involve a sample of 50 or 100 people, which limits understanding of certain diseases.

Another issue is communication between doctors, researchers, patients and study participants.

Apple said it has partnered with Stanford, Penn, University of Oxford, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and others to create software applications for ResearchKit.

Giving Apple access to this level of health data — information that goes beyond how many steps you’ve taken today or your sleep patterns — naturally raises questions around privacy. But, Williams insisted, “Apple will not see your data.”

ResearchKit will be released next month, with five apps available to start.

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