Building Apps with ResearchKit 

Session 213 WWDC 2015

ResearchKit is an open source framework introduced by Apple that allows researchers and developers to create powerful apps for medical research. Learn how to easily create visual consent flows, real-time dynamic active tasks, and surveys using a variety of customizable modules that you can build upon and share with the community.



My name is John Earl, and I’m an engineer on the ResearchKit team.

Today I will be talking about ResearchKit and about building and contributing to research apps.

So our agenda today has four parts.

First, we will cover what ResearchKit is.

Then, I will cover a few issues that may affect the design the design of your app-based study.

The meat of the talk though will be when I cover building apps with ResearchKit, how ResearchKit can help you to build research apps.

And finally, since it’s an open source project, I will talk about how you can contribute to ResearchKit.

So let’s get started.

What is ResearchKit?

Well, the short answer is that it’s an open source project and it’s available on GitHub.

But for a slightly longer answer, we’ll need to start with some motivation.

Even if you never participated in a medical research study, you probably have seen something like this at a university or at a hospital.

And if you have participated in one, you probably rang the number, met the investigator, and had the study and its risks and benefits explained to you.

Then you might have come in a few more times to answer questions and perhaps have samples taken.

Now, this is a pretty heavyweight model and researchers have told us that there are three problems with it.

The first problem is limited participation.

Posting flyers around university campuses limits participation to those that live near that institution, and to make a large study, you need collaboration across multiple research groups which means these studies happen infrequently if they happen at all.

The second problem is subjective and infrequent data.

Data is often collected using surveys at monthly or even longer intervals and this affects both the questions you can ask and limits data quality.

The third problem is that communication is one way.

You probably never heard of the results of the study you participated in unless you knew the investigators personally and that’s where we think apps can help.

The wide reach of the App Store distribution model can help researchers to reach a broader subject population.

So the first five research apps using ResearchKit have over 70,000 participants enrolled which makes them some of the largest studies ever conducted in their respective fields.

Secondly, apps can stream data continuously in contrast to subjective and infrequent manual data collection.

And finally, apps can keep a local record for each participant to give them feedback on how they are doing in managing their symptoms.

And this helps to keep them engaged without raising the burden on the investigator.

Now, at Apple, we wanted to help make this a reality for more studies and that’s why we built ResearchKit.

ResearchKit is an open source framework, and it’s available on GitHub.

You can use it to more easily create research apps whether they are commercial apps or they’re for part of for an academic study.

Now, iOS already has great APIs for collecting passive data information, like HealthKit and CoreMotion.

But there are quite a few other things that you need in order to conduct a successful research study from an app and we hope that ResearchKit can help you with some of those things.

Right now, ResearchKit has three modules.

The first module is surveys.

ResearchKit provides standard UI templates that you can use for doing surveys on an iPhone or on an iPad and we’ve tested it with some of the most common survey instruments from health research, like SF12 or EQ5D.

The second module is informed consent.

It’s a common requirement in human observational research.

To obtain consent from participants while making sure that they are fully informed about the details of the study.

The details will differ for every study, and so again ResearchKit provides templates that you can use to show this in your apps.

ResearchKit’s third module is active tasks.

An active task is a semicontrolled test where the participant is given step-by-step instructions to perform the task while data is collected using sensors on the device.

For example, in this gait and balance task, the phone is in your pocket while you walk back and forth, and accelerometer and the gyro are used to collect data that can assess your gait.

So again, we’ve got three things in ResearchKit.

We’ve got surveys, informed consent and active tasks.

Now, when we announced ResearchKit, the investigators we worked with simultaneously released their apps to the App Store.

And even now, these apps are being used to collect study data from conditions as diverse as Parkinson’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and breast cancer.

And with these partner institutions we’ve open sourced the codes for these apps, as well as the app core common library that they all share, so that can help you get started on your app if you need a jumpstart.

Now what do the apps actually do?

Well, they all used the informed consent module from ResearchKit during the onboarding process, but then after that, once the participants are enrolled, they collect data in a couple of ways.

First they use scheduled activities, using ResearchKit’s surveys and active task modules to collect more subjective measures.

In addition, they get objective measures by doing passive data collection using HealthKit and CoreMotion.

And in addition, they address that one-way communication problem by including a dashboard tab, which allows participants to see and track both subjective measures like their mood, perhaps derived from surveys and objective measures like their weight which might be derived from HealthKit.

So that’s ResearchKit and the apps that are using it.

But as we developed ResearchKit, we learned a few things about what else is involved in building an app-based study that we thought is important to share with you.

So during this section of the talk, I’ll share some of those with you.

So if you’re an engineer building a research app, you’re probably not the only person on the project and the rest of your team will have a variety of things that they’ll need to do, and I’ll cover some of those now.

Probably the most important will be to approach an ethics committee or institutional review board associated with your institution, in order to in order to obtain some sort of ethics review for the study protocol.

As part of this, you’ll need to decide what it means for the participant to be informed about the study.

You’ll take this paper-based form and hopefully you will be able to compress it down into something that’s appropriate for a mobile app, and we will cover that into a little more detail when we get to the inform and consent module of ResearchKit.

Next, since ResearchKit doesn’t provide a back end service, you need to plan for how you’ll store your study data.

So that might mean you stand up the survey yourself or contract with a third-party service provider.

Either way, you’ll need to account for both data security and privacy.

And lastly, you’ll need to plan for sharing your study data whether with participants perhaps in the form of a dashboard tab or some other method, or with other investigators which might require you generating a very broad informed consent.

So as you can see, there are a variety of issues outside the actual app build that will affect the design of your study-based app and for more resources on these, I would point you to ResearchKit.

org, our website, and also to our ResearchKit user’s mailing list where you can reach others who have also been through this before.

So without further adieu, let’s get on to building apps with ResearchKit.

How can ResearchKit help you in your studies?

So as I mentioned before, there are three modules in ResearchKit, surveys, informed consent and active tasks and all of those modules in ResearchKit behave more or less the same way.

Each activity that the user is asked to do is modeled as a task.

And each task can contain one or more steps.

Now, in order to use a task, you will want to present it to the user and to do that, you will use task view controller.

Now, a task view controller is a container view controller, a bit like a navigation controller or a tab bar controller that you are probably familiar with from the UI kit.

Now, when you present the task view controller, it will get the first step from the task and then display within the task view controller a step view controller that displays the data for that step.

Then when the step completes the task view controller will collect the result from it and collate the results from all the steps in that task.

Finally, the task view controller will notify its delegate when the task is complete and you will get a task result.

This task result will have a corresponding step result for the step you have been through, and if you have more steps, you will have correspondingly more step results.

So that’s the object model in ResearchKit and now let’s take a little bit deeper dive into one of the core objects which is the step.

So we will look at steps next.

In ResearchKit, a step really corresponds to the basic template that you use for each screen in a ResearchKit task.

And subclasses are a kind of step, which is just an abstract base class, can be used for each of the different types for each of the different steps that you might need for different modules in ResearchKit, like surveys.

So you might have an instruction, survey question and multiquestion forms or for other things like active tasks where you need countdown timers and perhaps a memory game for a cognitive task.

So this basic template generally presents the step content in the middle of the screen and this will this has some predefined elements which we’ll see next.

In addition, it generally includes the forward navigation controls which are displayed within the step view controller.

So what does that look like in code?

Well, you will get an ORKStep as the abstract base class, and you’ll see here that it’s a subclass within this object.

Now, I should mention that the framework itself is written in Objective-C but it’s perfectly usable from Swift and we added both nullability and generics to it so you can use it with Swift 2.

0. So what are some of the important properties of the base class.

The first and probably the most key property is the identifier and this is a string that you the developer provide.

It could be a human readable string, or it could be a UUID, or an identifier that corresponds to a record of this step and the corresponding task in your database.

The importance of this identifier is that it links the step with the corresponding step result and it needs to be unique within the context of your task.

Next, all steps have a title, and text.

And these generally fit into the same corresponding place in each step template.

If you are writing a question, for example, for a question step in a survey, you will typically put a short title and the actual question itself will go into the text property.

One more property worth mentioning is the optional property.

So each of the steps in a survey and ResearchKit or, in fact many of the other steps can be optional and, in fact, they are optional by default.

If you need to turn that off, for example because a particular answer is required, then you can use this property.

So that’s steps, but to use a step you need to put it in the context of a task.

Now tasks in ResearchKit don’t have an abstract base class, instead it’s just a protocol which defines how the task view controller will interact with each task.

Again, there’s a key property which is the identifier which uniquely identifies this task result compared to other task results that you might collect in this app.

Next, though, the task view controller needs to know what is the next step in this task, and for that, we define the step after step protocol method where we pass the current step from the task view controller.

Often, you’ll just return the next step.

But sometimes you will want to know you will want to decide what test what step to show based on the results so far.

So, for instance, if I answered A, you want to get to step A, and if I answered B, you want to go to step B and for that, the task view controller will pass the task a result the task result so far, that you can use to make that decision.

When looking for the first step in the task, the task view controller will pass nil as the current step and when the task is complete and there are no more steps you can return nil to tell the task view controller that there are no more steps to go to.

Similarly, the task view controller may want to ask your task what the previous steps should be.

So the step before method allows to you do things like prevent backward navigation.

So there are a variety of other properties and methods on the task protocol.

And implementing a task can be a complicated endeavor and so ResearchKit includes an implementation of ORKTask which is ORKOrder task for the simple case where you want to present your steps in consecutive order.

So here you pass an identifier and an array of steps and you can get those steps back from a read only property.

But the task view controller only interacts with its ordered task through the ORKtask protocol, so you call it step after step instead of accessing that step’s property.

Now if you need conditional logic, there is now another version of ordered task, a subclass of it, called ORKNavigable ordered task, which allows you to specify predicates on the results and corresponding destination steps.

This is a recent addition to the framework from an external contributor and we don’t have time to cover it today but you can find the details on GitHub.

So that’s tasks.

But to use a task, you will need to present it with a task view controller.

So let’s look at the task view controller next.

So you’ll start with a task.

And you’ll create a task view controller passing at the task.

But you notice this second property, task run UUID and that is a UUID which uniquely identifies this particular run of the task.

So if here we pass nil which indicates this is a new task instance.

We’re starting from scratch.

But if I were to save my work, say I had a long survey and I wanted to pause in the middle, then I might save and when we restarted this task by scheduling it in new task view controller, we would want to restore the old task run UUID because it’s really the same run of a task.

Then you need to set the delegate.

If you want to find out when the task is finished, you use the delegate callback.

But similarly, there are also delegate callbacks that give you opportunities to customize the task view controller’s behavior for example, substituting a new step view controller in place of the default one for a particular step.

In addition, some tasks can produce output, a file-based output.

So for example if you are using a microphone in your task to collect audio data, we’d want to write that data to audio file during the task.

In ResearchKit, to support that, you’ll specify an output directory to your task view controller where the file-based output from that task should go.

When the task completes, you will need to process those files and then be responsible for cleaning them up.

Finally you’ll present the task view controller modally and get something like this.

So, this task view controller as you can see, has a fairly standard behavior and the task view controller itself only controls a very small amount of the screen real estate.

So it controls this navigation bar, setting the progress indication, and possibly some backward navigation controls.

In addition, it gives the step view controller just enough information in order to show the forward navigation controls correctly.

So that’s the task view controller.

But what about getting results?

Well, let’s look at how you get results next.

So here’s the did finish with reason delegate callback and your delegate will receive this when the task is complete.

At that point you will get a reason why the task view controller finished and one reason it might finish is that the user chose to save their work in the middle of task and in that case you’ll want to extract the restoration data which is an opaque NSData property and then save it for later, when you want to resume the task you will instantiate a new task view controller and pass it that restoration data in a special initializer.

But in the usual case, your task will have completed successfully and in that case you want to grab the result from the task view controller’s result property and do something with it, like serialize it, send it to a server or perhaps analyze it in order to display some of the information to the user.

Finally, you’ll need to dismiss the task view controller, ecause you presented the task view controller, you are also responsible for dismissing it.

Now you have seen a basic overview of ResearchKit and how to use itsthe task-based model.

Now let’s see how that fits in with the first of ResearchKit’s modules, the surveys module.

So surveys in ResearchKit are made up of three things: instructions, survey questions and multiquestion forms.

And in turn, each of those corresponds to a step.

So we have a survey question I’m sorry, we have an instruction step, and a question step, and a form step.

Now, instruction steps add very little on top of what we already have in the ORKStep base class but question steps and form stems have a little more to them.

So we will look at that next.

Here’s a question step, and like any other step, it has an identifier which needs to be unique within the task and that question step also has an answer format.

That answer format is a subclass of ORKAnswer format that corresponds to the particular type of step you want to present.

So for the subclasses cover a wide gamut so we might have a Boolean answer format for a yes/no question, a text choice answer format, an image choice answer format to give an image scale, or date based and time interval formats and there’s a wide variety.

You can see them on GitHub.

So that’s question steps.

What about form steps?

So here’s a form step, and the form step has an identifier, and it also has an array of form items.

So here’s the array of form items and each form item has an identifier which needs to be unique within the context of that form step.

Like a question step, a form item has an answer format and ResearchKit supports all the same answer formats in form items that are supported in questions.

So, for example, we might mix a text choice answer format with a numeric answer format in the same form.

So that’s the object model for the model objects for ResearchKit surveys.

Now how do you get the results?

So here’s an ordered task with an identifier and an array of steps.

And when the task completes you will get a task result.

Again, with an identifier which matches and an array of results.

If this ordered task started with an instruction step, then that instruction step would have an identifier and when the task completes you have a step result with a corresponding identifier.

The results property of this step result will be empty, however because there’s no data being collected during that instruction step.

All we did is show them the instruction.

This object does have some useful properties, though, like the start date and the end date to show you how long that instruction was on the screen.

In addition, you might have a question step.

And that question step will have an identifier that matches its corresponding step result.

And then unlike the step result for the instruction step, this will actually have a child result which carries the actual answer corresponding to that answer format.

Results from forms work very similarly, so here’s an ordered task containing a single form step, with two form items and again these identifiers are unique within the form step.

And when you get the results back, you will have a task result with the identifier that matches and you will have a step result with identifier that matches that form step.

And then you will have corresponding child question results, this time you will have an array of question results one for each form item with identifiers matching the corresponding form items.

So that’s the object model in ResearchKit and how you can use survey, use it to present surveys.

Now I will show you a brief demo in Xcode.

So here we have an example app, which displays the table view with a list of the available tasks and here I’m going to be putting together a survey task to show you some of the features that I have just been through.

Now, the table view controller here, the table view controller here has a when you select a row, it will instantiate a task view controller and display that particular task, setting the delegate and the output directory and when the task completes, we’ll display we will dismiss the task view controller in the did finish callback.

Now, switching over to the task enumeration which holds the actual tasks you’ll see that I defined all cases to include just the survey case and the represented task is currently an empty task but I will now define it to be a survey task, which I will create next.

So to create my survey task, I will define a computed property, survey task in which I create an ordered task with an identifier survey and attach an array of steps.

Right now this array is empty.

So I will add an instruction step.

Now this instruction step has an identifier.

Here I’m just generating the identifiers because I know they will be unique within this task.

I set a title and text, which will be displayed on that screen.

And you’ll notice that I’ve marked these as localized strings.

And that’s because the content of these model objects is really localized content.

So if you’re going to use your app in multiple locales, then you’ll need to localize this content as well as other things you might localize in your app.

Then I might add a question step and this question step is a yes/no question.

So it’s got a boolean answer format, it’s got an identifier set and a title, and the question is: During a typical day, does your health now limit you when climbing several flights of stairs?

This is a fairly typical question that you might see in a general health survey.

Since we’ve been talking about forms, I will add a form step.

So here’s a form with its identifier, and a title and a general question: Over the last two weeks how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?

Now we are listing problems and each one of those problems will be a form item.

So each of these problems will be a question that is a text choice answer format.

So it’s a multiple choice question where you can select only one answer.

And you can see the answers I have given here are not at all, several days, more than half the days and nearly every day and they have corresponding values as well and these are the values that will be encoded into the result object so that you can analyze the result later and these could equally be any value that’s a property list type, it could be an integer an s-number, rather, or it could be a string like this.

So we have got this interest item, one problem I might have is little interest or pleasure in doing things and we will add a couple more items to round out our form.

So having set that up, one more thing I want to do is show you the results and to do that, I could have built you some UI so we could look through some results in the app itself, and we actually do that in the ORKCatalog sample app on GitHub but today I will just serialize to JSON and show you what the JSON output might look like.

So to do that, we’ll go back here to the task view controller delegate DidFinishWithReason oops, it wanted one more step.

I’ll just move that over.

I’ll just add the conclusion step to the task.

I forgot to do that.

So there’s our conclusion step.

So switching back here.

I will be switching on the reason.

So in the case that the task is actually completed successfully, I will extract the result from the task view controller.

Then I will want to serialize that to JSON and the ResearchKit framework itself does not include any JSON serialization, we did include something in one of our test apps in order to prove that the JSON serialization would work for a real app and so I’ve included that here now so I can demo it to you.

So I will run this and show you what surveys look like in ResearchKit.

So when I start my task, I’m presented immediately with this instruction step.

It has some indication of progress.

I can cancel out of the task.

I’ve got my title and text and I’ve got my navigation controls.

And you can see that it’s been prepopulated to get started and that’s automatic from the framework set up from the task view controller.

When I come in I get my boolean question, I can choose my answer, If I choose to skip this question, the answer I entered gets cleared.

So if I come back, the answer is gone and I can answer something different when I come back.

So I’ll just go through, and give some answers, and maybe I don’t answer all the questions and I can continue.

And finally, I’m done.

So let’s take a look at the results.

So as I described before, we’ve got a task result here, and it’s got a start date and an end date showing how long we were actually looking at that survey.

We’ve got an output directory a task run UUID that comes straight through from the task view controller and we’ve got the identifier that came from the task.

The child results array contains an array of step results.

So we have it instruction step result for that initial instruction step that has no children because we collected no additional information from the user.

In addition, we have a question step result which contains a Boolean question result that contains in the actual answer to my question.

So in this case, I answered yes.

And then from the form step here, we have a form step result with the feeling form identifier and then each of the answers I entered.

I answered the first two questions and the final form item in that form I didn’t answer and you can see there’s no actual answer property here and finally we have another step result for that closing instruction step.

Now I will show you how easy it is to modify the answer formats if you need to change things around in your survey as you develop your app.

One thing I might want to do is change is my boolean answer format.

Maybe yes isn’t enough information.

Maybe my health is limited a lot or maybe it’s limited only a little and so to do that I can switch to a text choice answer format and provide some detailed text on each choice which allows me to qualify the overall answers, so I can have yes, limited a lot or yes, limited a little.

One other thing you’ll notice here is the exclusive setting, which if this were a multiple choice question would allow you to set one or more choices as being an exclusive choice.

If you selected that choice all the other choices would be deselected.

I might also want to change my form step.

So as you saw, that was a very long, vertically scrolling form and maybe that’s not what I want in my app.

Perhaps I’d like to have some horizontal slidders that I could use to display more or less the same content, get the same answer, but in a different presentation.

I can do that very easily in ResearchKit just by switching to the ORKScale format and specifying descriptions for the minimum and the maximum values.

So I will run that again and show what you that looks like.

Here’s our survey again.

Very similar.

And now we have got some different options here in this step.

And what used to be multiple choice questions are now sliders that I can use to adjust the value.

When I come through and look at the results, the results are very similar in structure but the types of results are different, because the corresponding answer formats are different.

So your interpretation of those results would need to change.

So that’s surveys in ResearchKit.


So the second module in informed consent the second module in ResearchKit is informed consent.

So we will look at that now.

So what is informed consent?

Informed consent is the process of ensuring that participants fully understand the why and the how of the study.

What does the study entail and also the risks and benefits of participation.

Now, this will often be conducted in person.

And the detailed requirements of what needs to go into your consent process will come both from your study protocol and from your ethics review process.

Now, as the participant and the investigator review the consent together, they will often initial each page and perhaps sign at the end.

And so you probably need to sign during your informed consent process.

And finally, this informed consent is usually a legal document.

Now App Store submissions for human subject research must now include evidence of some form of ethical review.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to include an informed consent process like the one we will be discussing as part of this ResearchKit informed consent module.

Because low-risk studies might be exempted from informed consent and certain high-risk studies may actually need to work in person.

But in many cases, the informed consent module in ResearchKit will be appropriate.

And you will be able to determine that during the course of your ethical review process.

So assuming ResearchKit can help, let’s look at how the informed consent module works.

So there are two steps in ResearchKit for informed consent which need to present consent from the informed consent document.

And so both of those steps get their content from the ORKConsent document.

And this consent document is made up of two arrays.

The first array is an array of sections and these sections might be of predefined types like data gathering, privacy, and data use, which are the types of sections you might expect to see in an informed consent document.

But they also might be custom sections.

So ResearchKit doesn’t intend to provide a full solution, we provide an 80% solution.

And for your app, if you need additional sections, you should add them.

In addition the consent document will have an array of signatures.

So we might have an investigative signature that contains a prepopulated name and image and a participant signature where we collect the name and image during the course of the consent review process.

So let’s see how these look in ResearchKit.

We have got the visual consent step, the consent sharing step and the consent review step and I will dive into those each in a little bit more detail.

The visual consent flow typically has one screen per section in the document.

It has neat animated transitions that I’ll show you in a demo in a minute for the predefined sections and it’s fully customizable, so you can replace the imagery, you can replace the animations and you can fill in the exact content from your consent document.

So let’s look at how you do that in code.

You’ll create a consent section of a particular type, so in this case, data gathering.

Then, you’ll set some properties.

In this case I didn’t need to set a title because that would have already been localized to all the languages in iOS because I chose a predefined section, but if I didn’t use a predefined section or if I need to specify my own, then I can override them like this.

I can specify a summary which is shown during the visual consent process and I can specify some content which is shown if the user taps learn more as they go through visual consent or if you are going through the whole document which is displayed in consent review.

In addition, you can set a couple of other things, so you can set a custom image or custom animation.

This custom animation is just a video file that you might include with your app which would override whatever the default is, or provide something new, if it’s a custom step type.

Once you have the consent section, you attach your document to a visual consent step to present your visual consent sequence.

The next step in the informed consent module is the consent sharing step.

Research data collection is hard work.

So it makes sense to reuse it across multiple studies when that’s possible.

So it often makes sense to obtain a broad consent that will allow you to share the data that you collect with other researchers.

But that can pose a problem for participants.

If the data is really sensitive they might want to contribute to your study but not to others.

This issue came up while we were developing the initial apps using ResearchKit and so as a result we created the consent sharing step which has been prelocalized to all the languages that iOS supports where we can substitute in just your institution name and a couple other details to allow you to ask this question of participants whether they would like to share their data more widely.

Over 80% of participants in these initial studies have actually said yes to this question but we still think it’s an important thing to include if you are looking at such a broad consent.

So that’s consent sharing step.

The final step in the ResearchKit informed consent module is the consent review step and here the participant reviews the actual document and possibly enters their name and maybe signs with their finger.

And to show you how that works in code, we will look at that next.

You might start with your consent document here and then you’ll need to add a signature which is the signature you want to collect.

So this is the participant signature.

You set the title for the participant which is wat goes beneath the signature line if you were to generate a PDF of the document.

And we’ve got an identifier which identifies which signature this is if we are trying to find a particular signature in the consent document.

You can turn off either the name collection or the signature image collection, in this case we’re turning off the by setting RequiresSignatureImage to false.

Then you’ll add the signature to your consent document and you will attach your consent document to a consent review step while also specifying what signature it is that you are trying to collect.

You can use more than one consent review step if you have more than one person reviewing the same document on the same device, which might happen if you are doing this in person.

So those are the steps that make up the informed consent module in ResearchKit but to really understand what this means when you are running through the app, I need to show you a demo.

So we will do that next.

So to begin doing the informed consent in code, we’ll need to start by creating a consent document.

So I will do that first.

Here’s my consent document and the first thing I’ll need some consent sections to display during the visual consent.

So here I’ve created an array of consent sections and created a consent section of TypeOverview on which I set a summary.

I don’t need to set the title because that’s already been propopulated from my language.

I’ll also want to add some more sections so you can see some of these animations, so I’ll add a data gathering section and a privacy section, each with some lorem ipsum text.

In addition, I’ll want to show you how you add actual content to your consent document.

So the consent that would go within the section in the consent review document or also what you would find if you tapped learn more from a particular visual consent section.

You can specify the content property directly, which is just text, or you could specify some HTML if that’s what you wanted, so I’ll leave the HTML in.

So those are my consent sections, Additionally I will need some signatures for the consent review step.

So I’ll add a participant signature, just like the code I showed you before on the slides and the investigator signature with a different title and a different identifier, with a name and an image prepopulated.

And I’ve added those to the consent document.

Then, once I have my consent document, I’ll need to create a task to display this consent process.

So here’s my consent task, with the identifier Consent, I’ve just chosen that because it’s different from Survey and it’s something that I can understand when I read it.

So I’ve got an array of steps which is currently empty and the first thing I’ll want is a visual consent step.

So I will add that here and this has the identifier VisualConsent and I pass the document from my computed property.

Next, I’ll want to show you the consent sharing step, with just a few properties that I have to set in order to fully populate the text.

And last, we will want a consent review step where the participant has an opportunity to enter their signature and review their overall document.

So here I grab the first signature from the consent document, which I happen to know is the participant signature, and the consent document itself and attach them to this consent review step with another unique identifier within this task.

There are a couple of things I can additionally customize on the consent review step like the text that is displayed as the user enters their name and the text that’s displayed in the confirmation dialog when they agree.

And I’ve added all these steps to my step array.

Then I’ll justneed to extend my table view to display that task.

And specify that that’s the actual task I want to display and I’ll show you the consent process.

So when I start my informed consent task now we jump straight into the visual consent step.

And in contrast to some of the other steps we’ve seen, this visual consent step has multiple screens for each section.

So this corresponds to the first section in my consent document.

When I navigate to the second, I get this beautiful animation as I transition from one screen to the next.

These animations are the predefined animations that I was talking about.

NowYou can further customize this screen, for instance, in order to make it fit in with your app.

If you set the tint color using UIAppearance that would override both these controls at the top of the screen and the next button down here and actually change the tint color of this image and the corresponding animation so it can fit nicely into whatever app you’re building.

As I proceed to my next section, you’ll see I’ve got this “Learn more” button.

And when I tap that “Learn more” I can see the actual content from the particular consent document.

As I proceed, I’ll come on to the consent sharing step and this is really just a question step where I’m asked whether I want to share data just with your institution or with researchers worldwide.

And I want to share my data with all researchers that you think are qualified.

And as you continue, I see this consent review step which summarizes the document.

I have got the titles for each of the sections and the content for each section and I only set the content for one section but if you set them for all of those for the particular consent for your consent document, this would be a full legal document that the user might be agreeing to.

Now, sometimes the sections you want to show in this document will be different from what you want to show in the visual consent and you can accomplish that easily in ResearchKit either by using only in-document sections, which will only appear in this consent review step or by using a completely different consent document object to represent this or a third option, you could set the HTML review content which completely supplies your own HTML to display in this consent review if you need complete customization.

Once I agree, you will see whatever custom text I provided and I will enter my name.

Continue. I might sign, which I won’t do very well.

And finally when I complete the task, you’ll get back a result just like for any other task in ResearchKit.

And this has a step result corresponding to the visual consent showing how long it was that I was looking at the visual consent process.

A step result for that sharing question step with an answer of true because I answered yes.

And you will see a result for that final consent review step that includes the data for the actual signature that I entered.

So my name, and if I were looking at the actual object in Swift then I’d be able to pull out the actual UI image to the signature that I drew.

So that’s informed consent in ResearchKit.

Now there are a couple of other things we need to cover before we move on that are worth noting about this informed consent process that we learned in developing these initial apps.

I will divide them into two categories.

The first category is the informed part.

The first part of this is form factor.

We have tried to make the visual consent work really well adapting your consent document to this smaller iPhone form factor.

However, for your app, you may need to add additional custom content and when do you that, you just try and make that content fit well on these devices.

Next, we really encourage you to use custom sections.

What we put in ResearchKit is only there in an advisory fashion.

We want you to actually represent what you need, what comes out of your ethical of your ethics review process.

Next, you should plan for accepting questions from participants, whether during the consent process, that is, before the user has fully consented and afterward once they have actually joined your study.

Maybe they will have more questions once they start participating.

And finally many of the apps that are already using ResearchKit have incorporated a comprehension quiz.

Now, this can be a bit of an extra load, but it can also give you a lot more peace of mind that participants really understand what it is that you are trying to convey to them during this visual consent.

And to do that, you can just use the same steps from the surveys module and mix them into your consent task in order to accomplish that kind of behavior.

On the other side, we have got consent.

And there are a couple of points here.

One is verifying identity.

ResearchKit itself doesn’t do anything to actually verify the identity of your participants, but the initial apps using ResearchKit actually did some form of email verification to make sure that they were actually talking to a person, but for your study, possibly coming out of your ethics review process, you may need either less or more than that.

For instance, you may need to use a third party service to identify identity more robustly.

And once you have a concept of identity, you probably want to tie that identity with the actual record of that consent, in which case it might make sense to use some form of cryptographic signature.

So that’s informed consent.

The third module in ResearchKit is active tasks.

An active task is a semicontrolled test in which the participant is given step-by-step instructions to perform the task while data is collected using sensors on the device.

And the key properties of such tasks are that they’re interactive and very short in duration.

So these are session-based tasks.

The longest task in one of the ResearchKit apps so far is about six minutes and most of these tasks are about one or two minutes in duration.

Let’s look at the structure in some of the predefined tasks in ResearchKit.

These tasks typically have a couple of instruction steps to introduce you to the task basically tell you what it’s about, and then what you will need to do.

Then some kind of introduction to get you ready to act, and then an active step in which data is actually being collected.

And finally when the task is complete, we will thank you for your participation.

What makes this an active task is the existence of the active step.

And the active step here is really a base class in each of the individual active tasks that we predefined, subclasses that to produce the special behaviors that we need for each of these tasks.

Now, when we released ResearchKit, there were five active tasks.

The first three collected data using sensors open the device.

So we have the gait and balance task, where you’re asked to walk back and forth we collected accelerometer and gyroscope data.

And we have the fitness task where you are asked to walk for six minutes as we collect heart rate and podometry data and the voice task, where we use the microphone to collect information about your voice.

In addition to these, we have two more tasks which are more cognitive measurement tasks.

So these use sort of more interactive touch behavior, so we have spatial memory task in which you have a sequence and asked to repeat it and the tapping speed task where you are asked to rapidly alternate tapping between two buttons.

In addition since we released ResearchKit, there have been two more active tests added, we’ve got a hearing test, and now a reaction time test where you are shown a stimulus and have to shake the device in response.

To give you a flavor of how these active tasks worked in practice, I will need to show you a demo.

So that’s next.

So this is a really short demo because all I need to do is instantiate one of these simple predefined tasks.

So I will create this active task computed property which returns a two finger tapping interval task, and I just have to specify a few parameters.

This is basically the same for each of the different active tasks that we provide.

So you specify an identifier which should be unique within your study.

You specify an intended use description which is a localized string that will be substituted in into the prelocalized content that we provide for each of these active tasks and you specify the duration which is how long you want the user to tap for.

It could also specify some additional options which control whether we include the actual instruction steps at the beginning and end of the task because you might want to provide your own instructions if the ones we provide don’t work for you.

So now we have got our active task, and we’ll want to add it to our table view.

So I just have to make a couple of changes to support that.

I will add it to my list of tasks and mention my computed property as a represented task and when I run this, I should have a third task now, which will be this two finger tapping task.

So the intended use description gets populated in here and the rest of this content is localized to all the languages that iOS supports and we will be maintaining that for all the new active tasks we add.

So here’s our next instruction which tells me what to actually do.

So I will be tapping on each of the buttons alternately.

And when I come into the task thetimer doesn’t actually start until I start tapping, so as I start tapping, we start to see the timer going faster and faster and the task completes.

When the task is finished, I will get some results back.

We’ll take a look at how that works.

So because this is one of the more cognitive tasks the data aren’t written out to files.

Instead they are returned as object in memory which I’ve serialized to JSON so we can have a look.

And so here we have our task result as usual with our start date and the end date and various other properties.

We have a couple of step results which corresponds to the introductory instructions, and then we’ve got another step result that corresponds to the active step and it contains a child result which is the tapping interval result for the two finger tapping interval task.

That in turn contains an array of samples which contain which in turn contain time stamps for each of the taps that I have made and locations, which are just coordinates on the screen and a button identifier showing which button I tapped.

and taps outside the buttons would be recorded here.

In addition, there’s some other properties in this result, which detail where things were on screen, so I can actually tell what those locations corresponded to.

For other types of active tasks you will tend to see file-based results and those would be an ORKFile result with a file URL that points to a particular location on disk that would be inside the output directory that you specified when you set up your task controller.

So that’s my demo for active tasks in ResearchKit.


Now today we’ve covered three modules in ResearchKit.

We’vecovered surveys, informed consent and active tasks but we really don’t think it will stop there.

We think that ResearchKit is going to continue to expand both as third parties continue to contribute, so that’s you, and as we continue to add additional features and keep it up to date with the latest versions of our software.

So it will only get better if you contribute.

So let’s talk about how you can do that.

Now ResearchKit is just an open source project on GitHub.

So that means you will interact with it in the same way that you would interact with any other such open source project.

First, you’ll need to pick an existing issue or open a new one and ideally comment on it, so we know that you’re working on it.

Then, when you’ve got something that you want to share with us, you will submit a pull request.

And at that point, reviewers both from Apple and our other active external contributors will review your contribution both for the quality of the submission and also for how it matches up with the ResearchKit and how it fits in with the project.

Now, so far, about 90% of the changes we received have eventually got merged into the code base.

I think that’s a really good starting point for how we want things to be going forward.

Once your change is merged, though that’s not the end of the story.

At some point after that, we will start the convergence process to bring ResearchKit towards a new release.

And in fact we actually concluded our first release done using this process yesterday with ResearchKit 1.

1. During that process, we will review your change again, both for things like accessibility and also to localize it to all the languages that iOS supports and we may ask you to help out again.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound like too much work and you would like to help us out.

Let’s look at some of the areas where you could contribute.

One area where we’ve already mentioned contributions is active tasks and we’ve already had those two new active tasks contributed in the last month and a half with this project public.

But other areas where we’ve seen contributions have been answer formats, where someone’s added a vertical slider answer format, and new steps where someone added an image capture step.

In addition, going forward we expect to see more contributions in areas like device support.

So if you have a hardware device that you think would make sense to be used by people in medical research studies, then you can add some support for it into ResearchKit to help more researchers use it in their apps.

Also, we expect to add some back integrations.

So if you have a back end service and you think it would integrate well with ResearchKit and be a great data solution storage for researchers then it would make some sense to add some code to ResearchKit to support your particular back end.

We know there are several contributors out there who are already interested in doing this.

So I don’t have time to talk about all of these in much detail but what I do want to look at a little more is active tasks.

So you have already seen this structure for active tasks where we have some instruction steps, a countdown step, an active step and a completion step.

And this active step, base class actually has some other behaviors that will be useful for you when you go to implement your own active step.

So, active steps support recorder configurations, where you can configure the active step to automatically collect data from various sensors on the device during the duration of that step without writing very much code.

So take a closer look at how those work at how those work.

Right now, we have five recorders built into ResearchKit.

We have an accelerometer and device motion recorder and a pedometer recorder that collect data from CoreMotion and we have a health quality type recorder for pulling data from HealthKit.

So for instance, that could be used to collect heart rate.

Finally we have a location recorder that can pull some information from CoreLocation during the duration of your active step.

Now, when you use these on iOS, you would normally need to obtain user permission to get access to that data and ResearchKit isn’t a system framework and doesn’t let you bypass any of those controls.

But we do try to smooth out the process so if you use these in one or more of your steps then the task view controller will notice that and try to ask for those permissions upfront just after the instructions but before beginning the actual steps themselves.

So to give you a bit of flavor of how recorders are used, I thought I’d use the fitness step example from the six-minute walk task in ResearchKit.

So here’s our fitness step, which is a subclass of ORKActiveStep.

And when you subclass ORKActiveStep you also subclass the active step view controller.

You have an active step view controller which has a pointer back to the step.

Now this fitness step is configured with a couple of recorder configurations.

It will have a health quantity recorder configuration with a particular identifier which needs to be unique within this step because this is going to correspond to the result as you will see in a minute.

This recorder configuration has a couple of parameters.

So it’s got a quantity type which in this case is the heart rate quantity type and the unit, which in this case is beats per minute from your heart rate monitor.

You can have more than one recorder configuration so in this case we will have the pedommeter recorder configuration, again with a different identifier, so that you can identify the results from this recorder.

When you run the fitness step, you will get two recorders instantiated when the step begins this will be a health quantity recorder and a pedometer recorder and each of these will configure themselves based on the configuration model object attached to the fitness step.

When the task completes, you will get back a step result, as part of your task result and that step result will contain two child file results one for each of those recorders, with identifiers that correspond to the corresponding recorder configurations.

The file URL as I mentioned already will point to a file in the output directory where that data got recorded.

The actual serialization format in ResearchKit right now is JSON, but if you needed a different format then it would be straightforward to add a different formatter.

So that’s recorders.

Now, I have alluded already to some of the process you will need to go through to make a custom active step but let’s delineate those points now before we finish.

So when you go to create your custom active step, you will first subclass ORKActiveStep and subclass the active step view controller.

Usually we have pairs of these classes.

Then you will need to build the UI.

And that could mean that you completely override the UI of your active step view controller if you need to control the whole screen or it could mean that you just set the custom view, which fits into the built-in active step template in ResearchKit.

You will need to configure some recorders if you need to actually collect sensor data using the recorders we already have and you may need to add some new result classes.

So for the cognitive game, for example, you saw we had the tapping interval task result there.

That was an example of a result class that was created specifically for that step.

And when you create an active step that’s like that one, you will need to correspondingly create your own class structure which needs to be serializable and that will introduce a couple of limitations on what you will include in those results.

That’s it for active steps.

We talked about our three modules and we talked about how to contribute to ResearchKit.

And I just want to leave you with a few thoughts.

First, ResearchKit is open source and as a result, if there’s one thing I want you to do after this result is go away and clone it and have a look and see how it will fit into your apps.

And since it’s open source, you can contribute.

You can make a difference to the future of medical research.

And that’s really the main point.

This is an open project and it will become what you make it.

There are a few other areas where you can get some additional information about ResearchKit.

We have the ResearchKit.

org which is our primary landing page.

And that will have links to all the different projects included in ResearchKit, both the apps using ResearchKit and the framework itself we’ve linked here.

For general inquiries, for instance, if you are a principal investigator and you want to get in touch with others who might be able to help you with your project, then you can reach us at ResearchKit@apple.

com. And finally, for technical support, we’ve two mailing lists.

We’vegot ResearchKit Users if you need to reach others who are using the framework or ask questions about how to use it, and ResearchKit Dev if you have questions about how to contribute.

There are some related sessions that may help you as you try to put together a research app.

So there’s What’s New in HealthKit yesterday.

We introduced some new data types among other things.

So you can go and visit that online and also we had a HealthKit and ResearchKit lab this morning and there’s another one tomorrow morning at 11:00.

Finally there’s a health, fitness, and research get together in just a half hour and I hope you’ll join us for that.

With that, thank you very much and thanks for listening.


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