Apple Watch Release Includes New Medical Research Feature

April 9, 2015

Apple’s latest gadget — and perhaps the most anticipated fitness wearable ever — was unveiled in March and will be available for purchase on April 24. But to many in the medical research community, Apple Watch was upstaged by the surprise release of ResearchKit, an open-source biomedical platform that will allow users of iOS devices to enroll in tests of new drugs and therapies by downloading apps from hospitals and providers who are recruiting patients. It works with HealthKit, a developer’s tool that allows health and fitness apps to share data that Apple introduced last year.

Apple announced earlier this year that it has shipped 1 billion iOS devices, including iPhones, iPads and iPods. Future iOS sales numbers will include Apple Watch, which also runs iOS.

So what does it mean that 1 billion+ devices now exist that people can use to voluntarily contribute their health information in support of medical research? Said Jeff Williams, senior VP of operations for Apple, “There are hundreds of millions of iPhone users that would contribute [to research] if it was easier to do so. ResearchKit turns HealthKit into a diagnostic tool.”

Bottom line, it could make high-quality medical research on diseases such as bipolar disorder and Parkinson’s easier and less expensive to conduct.

Apple developed ResearchKit in conjunction with an impressive list of organizations and hospitals, including Massachusetts General Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, UCLA’s School for Public Health, Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of Oxford, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Of course, Apple Watch also has many health and fitness features that one would expect of a fitness wearable. These include a heart rate monitor, apps for tracking workouts and goal setting and the ability to work out untethered by an iPhone.

It remains to be seen whether consumers will flock to Apple Watch as they have done with other Apple products. But if they do, it could be the first fitness wearable to spur employee engagement and adoption of corporate wellness programs.

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