Getting Started, Development and Launch

Best practices for using ResearchKit and CareKit

When you’re getting ready to make an app, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here are a few tips and guidelines for making a successful app with ResearchKit and CareKit.

Articulate the “why” for your app.

Identify a research study that would benefit from being app-based. Typically app-based research studies benefit by facilitating expanded reach to a large and diverse participant population. Utilization of sensors built into everyday use devices allow for streamlined study specific data collection, and offer an easy way for study participation.

Similarly, for care programs you should identify a patient care experience that would benefit from being app-based. Typically app-based care programs benefit from continuous patient data collection, remote monitoring, and care plans that are easier for patients to manage in an app.

Start organizing your thoughts by determining the types and frequency of data collection. What quality control measures could be implemented to ensure validity and reliability?

Also, what metrics/outcomes should be measured? Can this app-based approach demonstrate improved outcomes to a starting baseline of traditional care?

Assemble the right team.

Once you’ve figured out your focus, the next step is to assemble a leadership team that will own, plan, execute, and deploy your app. This team will assist in app design, creation, maintenance, and updates.

Plan to create an advisory board and, if possible, include study participants, patients, and potential users to ensure understanding and buy-in.

Envision the ideal user experience.

When you’re getting ready to design a user experience for participants and patients, you should assess what study specific data you need to collect to reach your study objectives, and then determine what is the best user experience that will allow you to engage participants throughout the research study process.

Once you’ve gotten an idea of what will be needed, you should investigate what already exists within the frameworks and what might need to be custom-built.

Remember, it can often be tempting to ask burdensome questionnaires frequently or collect many data types without a clear definition of need. Consider user engagement and the value to the user carefully - participants may not return to your app if they feel unable to keep up with tasks or as though their time is not being well spent.

Think about the big picture.

It’s important think things through and develop a comprehensive approach when planning your project goals. Here’s a quick checklist to run through that will help you get started.

  • Establish your study objectives or care plan goals. What data supports these goals? What outcomes do you aim to impact or improve?
  • Design your infrastructure, management strategies, workflow solution.
  • Identify appropriate devices for data collection. Will the app be supported on an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, iPod touch or a combination of devices? What study specific data can be requested through HealthKit with user permission? Is there additional study specific data you want to collect through surveys?
  • Determine data management and storage requirements and procedures.
  • Consider data visualization. Will participants see their own data during participation? If so, what data will be available? Could this data potentially confound your study or could visualization alone impact a patient’s care?
  • What tools are already in place that could be utilized for data collected using the ResearchKit and/or CareKit app? Is there an appropriate existing data storage solution that could be utilized? What other sources of data need to connect with the app data? How frequently will data be submitted by the participants and reviewed by the study personnel?
  • Create a roadmap for current and future grant submissions (if applicable) to ensure financial sustainability. Identify the expected costs and possible savings over time.

Engage your community.

The best way for stakeholders to understand and support your vision is to engage your community. Connect with internal stakeholders and identify processes in place for a public-facing app. For example, legal and public relations departments will have guidance on the use of university/medical center logos.

The public relations department can also help identify appropriate avenues to advertise the app once it is developed, such as local news and social media. Several research studies have created a companion website to provide additional information, FAQs, and link to the app to download. Also, reach out to patient advocacy groups that might want to review the app and help with pilot testing or dissemination.

Monitor your progress.

Set some clear goals and ways to measure your progress against them. Then you can pilot test your app with a subgroup of participants and modify your app’s features as needed.

Your advisory board of internal and external stakeholders can help you monitor your progress as you move closer to your study objectives and goals.