How Your iPhone Could Help Health Researchers — and You

Apple's new Research Kit iPhone app shares health information with researchers


Apple's massive fortunes are usually measured in economic terms, but the brand represents a treasure trove of data, too. That's the thinking behind the new Research Kit, an opt-in app that allows users to share their health information with health researchers.

Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams told onlookers at an Apple event this week, per USA Today, that, "With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use 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."

Should iPhone users so choose, their data will be shared with experts looking to treat and prevent Parkinson's, breast cancer, diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease. The sheer volume of Apple users could translate into incredibly useful data for those experts.

According to an Apple statement, via Bloomberg Business, various components of the iPhone's hardware and software (like its microphone and gyroscope) may be used, "to gain insight into a patient's gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory."

It's a glimpse into just how valuable portable tech may become to the health sector.

And it's also raising the customary privacy concerns.

"The more data you have online, the more likely you'll be part of a breach — and that data could be embarrassing," health attorney Jennifer Geetter said, per Bloomberg.

Apple executives have already met with officials from the US Federal Trade Commission to discuss usage of consumer health data. Like any technology involving personal information, there will be risks — along with some enormous opportunity.

It may take some time for developers to catch up to the device's potential. But their apps will be tools for doctors and scientists conducting wide-ranging studies. From a marketing perspective, it's also a chance for Apple to reaffirm its socially conscious branding.

From consumers' perspectives, they can also help themselves. As Williams noted, "it's known that exercise can significantly slow or halt the acceleration of Parkinson's, and with this app you can easily track your exercise as compared to the results from those tests."

While it remains to be seen just how widely the apps will be used, it's not hard to see the considerable potential in Apple's most recent attempt at diversification.