Performance of ResearchKit App Studies: mPower App and America Walks Study

by Shweta Mishra

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Patient engagement solutions are predicted to become a $39.9 billion by 2024, currently being at approximately $7.4 billion, according to a report by Grand View Research. Major part of this revenue is expected to be driven by home healthcare and health management segments, and mobile health is going to be an important contributor.

Since the launch of 5 research study based apps by Apple in March 2015 – mpower, asthma, myheart, sharethejourney and glucosuccess – today we have 25 mobile based study apps covering varied health topics.

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There is a lot of excitement around mhealth and things are developing at a fast pace in the mobile health world, which is bound to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming few years. But how are the currently available mobile apps and wearables performing? TrialX CEO Sharib Khan takes a look at the stats of some of the early launched apps to give us an idea in a recent webinar.

mPower App – Usage and Statistics

mPower app was one of the very first mobile based study app launched in March 2015, by Sage Bionetworks in collaboration with University of Rochester Medical Center ( It is an observational smartphone-based study developed using Apple’s ResearchKit library with the aim to evaluate feasibility of remotely collecting frequent information about the daily changes in symptom severity and a patient’s sensitivity to medication in Parkinson’s disease.

The study app required participants with or without (control group) Parkinson’s disease to pass a 5 question quiz, evaluating their understanding of the study objective, their rights, and data sharing options. After passing this quiz, they were supposed to complete the e-consent process and verify their email ids, to which their signed consent forms were sent.

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In the first 6 months of the launch of mPower app, about 48K people downloaded this app of which only about 16.5 K provided informed consent and passed the quiz, 14K verified their email addresses and only 9.5K opted to share their data broadly to be used by researchers worldwide.

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The mPower participants were asked to complete four activities – walking, tapping, memory, and voice activities – 3 times a day. The initial enthusiasm of the participants was very encouraging as they completed many active tasks, some of them multiple times a day, and also filled up surveys. The app showed maximum usage on day one, however, there was a sharp decline in the repeat use of the app after day 1 in both experimental and control groups. Only 900 users reported data over 5 separate days in the first 6 month period. This sharp decline in repeat app usage indicates that many improvisations need to be done in order to increase adherence and reduce dropouts.

Still, if we perceive this initial 6 months data in the overall scheme of things, these 900 users showing active participation, point to a very promising start to this new mobile based data collection platform, and may open up a whole new world of data for advancing human health research.

America Walks Study – Statistics

In March 2016, TrialX launched America Walks Study (AWS) App, a much smaller study to investigate the walking behavior of Americans, and to find out how much they are actually walking compared to their perception of how much they walk, and also compared to their buddy walkers who downloaded the app. Data collected from March 1 to July 13, shows that 155 users downloaded the study of which 150 completed the e-consent process and the initial demographic survey, but step data could be received from only 118 participants so far. However, the study continues to recruit participants until 30th of September 2016.

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The AWS app provides participants with a dashboard with real-time data displayed to users, where they can see their number of steps walked along with their ranking in their state as well as the overall ranking. This feature of research kit study apps that allows immediate data sharing, enhances user experience and motivates users to continue to participate in the study, in other words, helps increase adherence. AWS participants from almost 27 states across America have walked more than 17 M steps so far. The walk data collected from the participants can be sliced and diced based on age, gender, geographical region, sex, and income levels.

AWS App is compatible with both Android and iOS platforms. Among the 118 participants who are contributing their walk data, 38 are doing so using android phones. The study can be downloaded on both iOS (5S & above) and by Android phones from here.

Although the market for apps and wearables is growing at a fast pace, substantial challenges remain that need to be resolved in order to increase repeated use and adherence and reduce drop out rates. According to Ian Ferguson, vice president Segment Marketing in ARM, most notable of these challenges are –

  1. Simplification of the app user interface to make it easier for all users – in other words, complying with “one size does not fit all”.
  2. Security of data being transferred.
  3. Addressing data ownership issues and issues related to usage of data.

As these challenges get resolved, smartphone based research kit apps will continue to improve as personal health data repositories, helping in further streamlining of data collection process.

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