Thumbthing Writings by Bob Spryn, and Roderic Campbell, iOS Engineers and founders at Thumbworks

Additional possibilities with a ResearchKit mobile app

In our first post on using ResearchKit in clinical trials, we looked at the main components of ResearchKit, and the benefits of building a mobile app with it. Now we’ll examine additional possibilities made possible by building a clinical trial app.

Sensor data

Today’s mobile devices have the capability to gather an incredible amount of data. With a mobile ResearchKit app, you would gather this data via the aforementioned HealthKit repository, and via active tasks. Remember that active tasks are a component of ResearchKit that instruct the participant to begin a certain activity while it monitors and records the relevant sensor data. While not relevant to every clinical trial, a large percentage of trials might benefit from this data. Built in sensor data opportunities include:

In addition to the sensors already available on an iPhone/Apple Watch, iOS and HealthKit already support a large number of third party devices for measuring all kinds of supplementary information that could be relevant to your trial.

“We’re talking about trying to change the scale of the amount of data that you can collect. Going from data that might be collected say once every three months, to data that’s collected say once every second.”
- Max Little, PhD Aston University, England

Push notifications

Push notifications encourage engagement with your app, especially when targeted at a specific segment of participants like in a clinical trial. The ability to send push notifications to clinical trial participants provides a wealth of opportunities that wouldn’t be available without a mobile app. Here are just a few ideas for leveraging push notifications:

Data sharing

Speaking of sharing information, a mobile app offers a great opportunity to put all of the relevant, up-to-date information about a clinical trial at the participant’s fingertips.


Provide the participants with a dashboard that gives them all the latest information about the clinical trial at-a-glance. The dashboard might highlight information like:


In certain trials it might be appropriate to give the participant detailed information about the history of their data and (probably much more rarely) insight into the current results of the trial. The newest component of ResearchKit, submitted by open source contributors and curated by Apple, is a great looking charting engine.

A good use of charts might be showing the participant the history of one of their survey data points, for example, plotting out their 0-10 rating of shortness of breath over the duration of the study. Or you could simply use it to display to the participant how often they have submitted surveys and completed diaries.

We’ll look at charts in detail in an additional post.


Another good bit of data to share via a mobile app might be the history and recent studies done on the condition or disease the trial is addressing. The participant could easily browse and search through articles and journals deemed relevant by the research team, as well as read an overview of their condition and the symptoms, current treatments, and prognosis.

We’ve really only covered a small portion of the possibilities here. In a future post we’ll discuss additional possible functionality: