Apple’s Research Kit

screenshot_208(Bloomberg) — Apple Inc.’s new ResearchKit software platform turns the iPhone into a diagnostic tool drawing medical data from millions of potential customers, creating a boon for researchers and a headache for privacy advocates.  Just how viable is this announcement and is it more sizzle than steak?

The platform, which will be available on the latest version of iPhone software next month, will allow any iPhone user to enroll in tests of new drugs and therapies by downloading apps from hospitals and providers who are recruiting patients. Hardware already available on the iPhone, like the voice recorder and motion sensor, will then be used to measure health outcomes — everything from steps taken to testing whether someone’s voice patterns are indicative of Parkinson’s disease. It works with HealthKit, which Apple introduced last year.

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ResearchKit joins health-tracking technology tools such as Fitbit Inc.’s wristwear that can generate reams of data on people’s health and activity levels. While researchers are enthusiastic about having access to such information culled from a diverse population, privacy advocates are concerned the information could be tied to individual users.  ResearchKit’s uses would cross into areas where the privacy protections of the HIPAA law are not always present.

Many consumers don’t understand that the health data they share with an app or device may be used in ways they hadn’t intended, like to market to them or profile them online, said Jennifer Geetter, a health lawyer and partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP.

IPhone data would only be useful for a handful of disease states, said Christoph Lehmann, a professor of pediatrics and biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University.

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One thing is for certain, rather than waiting for the FDA or laggards Power Point presentations Apple is making it happen.  Sure, there are going to be bumps on the way to adoption, but Research Kit could be knocking down the door to an enormous opportunity.  Now if we could just make the data more actionable without months of meetings…