Are Mobile Health Apps the Next Big Wave in Mobile App Development

Apple is teaming with mobile app development professionals and prestigious medical schools to produce apps for, as of this writing, eight different medical conditions. These apps are being built on an open source Apple framework called “ResearchKit.” In their first six months, ResearchKit had more than 100,000 users.

So far, the apps are a “win-win” for users, researchers, mobile app developers and for Apple. Users get great medical information at their fingertips. Developers get information for building better apps. Researchers can assemble data from subjects who live far away from their facilities. Apple gets to use the metrics to find out what features people want to use in their quests for better health.

The first set of apps was released in March 2015. They offered help and information for those who suffer from Parkinson’s, asthma, heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes. In October 2015, they released apps for melanoma, epilepsy and autism.

How ResearchKit Works

ResearchKit allows mobile app developers to create apps which are specific to certain disorders. These apps work with sensors contained on the iPhone and with iPhone’s HealthKit. For example, the Parkinson’s app is called mPower. It allows users to take a series of interactive tests using the iPhone sensors for input regarding their gait, balance, speech, memory and motor skills.

Autism & Beyond, also known as “A&B,” allows parents to hold their kids in their laps while taking videos that help screen their children for early signs of autism.

ResearchKit is in its relative infancy, but it has produced a lot of new and unique features that were heretofore unseen. Here are some points of feedback from industry experts about ResearchKit.

What ResearchKit Means to Mobile App Developers

The Best Health Apps are “Engaging” and “Sticky.”

These apps are being used to generate data for studies. If they aren’t used every day, which is called being “sticky,” the researchers don’t get enough data. Getting users to download an app is only a small part of making it successful. It is mandatory to get them to return to the app the next day and still be using it the next week and the next month, for as long as possible.

Health apps usually lag behind games and social apps when it comes to retention and repetition. To be successful, they must catch up.

They Should also Run on Android.

So far, the ResearchKit apps only run on iOS devices. According to many researchers, this tends to skew the data towards younger users with higher incomes. This has resulted in rumours that Apple is actually trying to persuade Android app development professionals to take advantage of the open source nature of ResearchKit and create Android ports.

ResearchKit and its Apps Transcend Geographical Limitations.

More than 50,000 people downloaded the Asthma app, created the Icahn School of Medicine in New York. Of those 50,000 people, 8,800 of them met the criteria for the study. 89% of them lived outside of New York and New Jersey, where participants would normally come from.

Imagine how this could be used, for example, in remote Outback areas to study health problems there.

Some Apps Should Be Multi-Lingual.

This not only creates an international market, but provides a more diverse group of subjects for study. Duke University in the US and Apple are now combining on an Autism app that will be produced in English, Chinese and Spanish.

iPhone Users are Willing to Share Medical Information Via an App but Only Anonymously.

The participation numbers indicate that people are willing to share their personal medical information with researchers on their iPhones. However, they want that information to remain anonymous and confidential.

What Can You Learn From This?

These apps are research-based. Can you think of other ways to help people solve their health problems with an app? Is there a particular health condition where you think your app could help you make a difference while profiting handsomely?

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