Building CrossPlatform ResearchKit Apps: Frequently Asked Questions

by Shweta Mishra

Image courtesy: Pinterest

The increasing use of ResearchKit apps and wearables to collect health data for research studies is predicted to be one of the important contributors towards making this industry a 31.27 billion dollar one by 2020. Since a larger number of smartphone users are Android users, researchers and app developers are more keen on investing time and money in an app or wearable that is cross platform compatible, which means that it should work on both iOS and android phones.


Here are some frequently asked questions related to building of cross platform apps like the America Walks Study app, answered by TrialX CTO, Dr. Chintan Patel in our webinar on mobile research study apps and how researchkit and wearables can augment a study


1)  Is it double work trying to build both ios and android apps?

Whether an app is built for iOS or android based systems, or both, it more or less has a similar architecture in terms of backend storage. So, you don’t have to worry about using a different storage database or backend API’s for a cross-platform app. The rest of the app development work involves new effort. Dr. Patel says “You only have to do a common backend. Because of ResearchDroid and ResearchKit, all you have to do is use these libraries. 60-70% of work is common where you are remodeling the backend and data storage. Rest 30-40% requires the client app development, where new effort is required.”

Here are a few resources to help you know more about cross platform apps:


2) Is there an easy way to download the consent text so I can submit to the IRB?

All ResearchKit app proposals require to submit a consent form signed by the participant as well as the principal investigator of the study to the IRB. Dr. Patel explains “Apple’s ResearchKit has a very simple function that generates a pdf out of the consent text. This pdf can be given to IRB. This is the easiest way. Apple creates a consent form with signatures. It has the PI (Principal Investigator) signature and the patient’s signature section where the patients’ sign while going through the consent process. This image of the participant and PI signature gets into the pdf.” This PDF should be sent to the participant as well as the IRB. 

More on IRB approval of your study can be found here 


3) Building the apps ourselves, whose responsibility is it whether the data is comparable in terms of reliability?

While building a researchkit app, the researcher must take the responsibility of  reliability of data collected via the app. Describing the making of America Walks Study app Dr. Patel said “This is where we did a lot of study, in terms of experimenting with various android versions and various devices. So, there is a whole metrics that we had to create, while making the America Walks Study App, in terms of ensuring that the step count sensor is giving comparable data. We actually carried 2 phones in our pockets for a few days to see if we are getting comparable numbers.”


4) What is the guarantee that Apple is not accessing the data?

Dr. Patel thinks that we can use Apple’s server to store data with peace of mind without worrying about data privacy and security since Apple’s ResearchKit is an an open-source framework which mean that the code is visible to the public and can be used by anyone to build apps! He says, “The guarantee is that Apple’s ResearchKit is open source. Anything that you put in your app does not go to Apple. You can go and see the code, nothing going out. You can also intercept the network activity to see whether data is going to Apple’s server or not. With Apple we are pretty confident. However, with Google fit it does go to the Google cloud. That was the reason we did not use Google fit. We were streaming the data directly to the sensor. We went to androids’s low level sensor API, and just pulled the data directly from device to our research servers.”

Get more information on ResearchKit apps and privacy here.


5) Can we create customized tasks?

GitHub library allows developers to build personal projects using open source technologies in a fast, flexible and collaborative way. Dr. Patel explains that it is possible to create customized tasks using active task module. “If you go to github library, there are people who are submitting pull requests with custom tasks that they have created, and it is very exciting to see, you know, a lot of clinical outcomes assessments being modeled into interactive tasks” he says. 


6) Why are step counts not getting collected? Is it due to loss of connectivity?

Loss of connectivity could be the reason behind data loss while using ResearchKit apps in collecting any kind of research data. Dr. Chintan’s solution to this problem is – storing data locally initially, and then sinking it to the source . He says“Yeah, connectivity is an issue. In AWS, we stored data locally and then sink it to the server. This way we avoided loss of data and then when you get connectivity you can sink that data to your source.”


7) What is the cost of building an app for android and ios?

There are many factors which decide the cost of building a cross-platform app. The features and complexity that you require in your app , the duration for which you want your app to be valid, and the frequency with which you want updates for your app, are a few to name. Dr Patel explains “It varies depending on the time duration for which the app will be valid. An app can be a 2 months app to a one year long app. It can vary from as low as $5K to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the level of complexity, the UI etc. This is why we are building AppBakery that will make it very cost effective for you to get an app up and running. Before even you write your grants you can do a pilot study using app bakery.”

App bakery is a new platform developed by TrialX Inc., which can help you “bake” a research study app in minutes. This means that this innovative solution can help researchers get a full research study app with consent, surveys, notifications and integration to sensors/wearables for both iOS and Android, allowing viewing of real-time data from the study participants.


8) Is there a way a participant can upload a video of completing a physical activity task?

“Yes, I think that is a good idea. You can have participants upload a video using the phone’s camera.”


9) How difficult is to build an app which asks a person to click a picture of a food in their plate and it tells them the calorie count on their plate? Is it feasible?

“That’s a great idea. It would be great to have this app which could tell the calorie count on a plate just by a click of it. Until then we will have to use apps like myfitnesspal.” 

Dr. Patel presented the making, statistics and performance of America Walks study at the Mobile in Clinical Trials conference held in Boston on 19th September. The news website covered the presentation elaborately.

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