Pharma research institutes are already beginning to take advantage of mHealth technology to conduct clinical research. Smartphones with powerful processors and advanced sensors that can track movement, take measurements and record information are highly useful in post-market studies and allow people to participate in studies more easily. The more people who contribute their data, the bigger the numbers, the truer the representation of a population, and the more powerful the results, so an mHealth app has the potential to engage unprecedented numbers of individuals in large geographical areas. Apple currently has several mHealth apps for clinical research on the iPhone, including apps targeting Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and breast cancer, which have been developed by leading research institutes.
Apple reportedly investigated blood pressure and blood oxygen measurement features but decided not to go ahead because readings were inconclusive. Sensors for skin conductivity were included in early designs but had to be dropped after issues such as the tightness of the strap and hairy arms caused unreliable readings. Apple however, feels that it has a moral obligation to develop health products, so we can expect further health monitoring features to be included in future editions.
However, mHealth sensors are not just confined to smartphones; wearable devices such as smartwatches (eg. Apple Watch, Samsung Gear) and fitness bands (eg. FitBit, Jawbone, Garmin) contain accelerometers and global positioning (GPS) and sensors capable of taking biometric readings. As these sensors become more advanced and accurate, there is huge potential for the use of wearable devices for gathering clinical trial data remotely in real-time, real-world settings. Mobile and wearable devices that are already in use or under development feature sensors that are able to track heart rate, sleep, stress, temperature, blood glucose, blood oxygen, and various other measurements that would be useful in clinical trials. The true power of these devices however, comes from their internet connectivity, which enables the information they collect to be synced with other devices or instantly shared with doctors and researchers. This could create a shift for pharma companies and CROs towards remote monitoring and reduce the need for patients to make visits to a research centre or hospital when participating in a clinical trial.