Following the introduction of ResearchKit at this month’s Apple event, Apple executives Jeff Williams and Bud Tribble held a question and answer session with Apple employees regarding the new initiative, according to a source who provided a transcript of the conversation. Williams, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Operations, is the top executive in charge of Apple’s health engineering initiatives, including the Apple Watch, HealthKit, ResearchKit, and fitness software. Tribble is a Software Engineering Vice President with a medical background as a doctor, and he organized many of the partnerships for both HealthKit and ResearchKit…
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Asked how the idea of ResearchKit came to fruition, Williams said development of HealthKit pushed the idea of ResearchKit forward.
As Apple met with people in the medical industry to develop the Health app, professionals said, “some of this would be great for research,” according to Williams. “The more we thought about the problems that they told us they faced, the more it was clear that we had a chance to help in a really big way,” Williams added.
Tribble said that he “really gravitated towards this project because [his] background is in medicine,” and that he is aware of “some of the [medical research] challenges [that Apple could solve],” so it “really clicked” for him.
Williams also spoke to the importance of ResearchKit for patients and the medical industry in general. In line with his statements during the March Apple event, Williams told employees that “the last frontier of medicine is the patient, and engaging the patient more in their own health,” so Apple believes that the iPhone could allow “patients [to get more involved] in their own care in an easy, low friction way.” In addition to helping themselves, using the apps on the iPhone helps other people around the world and medical research studies, Williams said. Apple sees “huge opportunities with hundreds of millions of iPhones users,” according to Williams.
As ResearchKit is open source, which means that developers and researchers can contribute to its development, the platform will naturally be able to have a larger impact than Apple’s other closed sourced products.
Tribble commented on the decision for making ResearchKit open source by saying, “If someone comes with a new way to measure the impact of Parkinson’s disease, they can put that module in ResearchKit and other researchers can use that as well.” He added that this strategy is “actually a very good match between Apple’s motives and how researchers are used to working, which is in a very open collaborative environment.”
In line with comments from Tim Cook at a recent shareholder meeting, Williams said that Apple “could have kept this closed, but that’s not really what this is about. This is about helping fight disease. And if contributions from another platform help save a single life, then it will have been worth it.”
Williams ended the conversation with employees by saying that “the engagement [of the developers] was just at the most personal level I have ever seen” because “so many of us have been affected by these diseases that there’s a strong personal connection.” He added that the “team working on ResearchKit seem to be really touched by that.”
Five ResearchKit applications covering Asthma, Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes, Breast Cancer, and Cardiovascular disease are already on the App Store, while the open source platform will be released in April. We published a hands-on preview of all five apps earlier this month.
The ResearchKit platform has already superseded legacy medical research at some universities in as little as 24 hours, with Stanford recently stating that “to get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country.” Still, Apple has more ambitious plans for ResearchKit, including larger, group research trials.