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Google advances health data collection initiative

Published on 05/06/15 at 09:20am
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Google is advancing a suite of applications known as ‘Study Kit’ that enable users to collect and share health information with researchers.

The initiative is an extension of its project Baseline Study a Google[x] ‘moonshot’, that was a health data collecting University-based pilot scheme launched last July. Now Tech Crunch says the company is planning a bigger launch later this year.

So far Study Kit comes in the form of Android and iOS apps along with a Chrome extension, and these are currently only available to a limited number of people registered on its Baseline study.

On the marketplace the app is just listed as being “for use with the Google Study Kit to upload and view data from your Study Kit devices” – but the company has said its aims are to create a platform that involves collecting and analysing diagnostics from people to paint a picture of “what it means to be healthy”.

The apps were released back in March but the Chrome extension is a brand new development, and suggests the firm is looking to widen its study to include more participants – thereby harnessing more data.

A Google spokesperson has said: “We are in the early stages of designing the Baseline Study and are exploring ways to make it easy for participants to share their health information and habits with researchers on a routine basis. An app is one route we’re considering and some of our pilot participants are testing this early version.” 

Data for the project has to date been gathered via blood and urine samples from participants, and the apps are said to be essentially the second wave for how Baseline collects data.

For a third, an article in the WSJ notes that the long-term plan is to use wearable connected devices to provide data to Baseline, perhaps ‘smart’ contact lenses that can monitor and transmit a person’s glucose levels. 

The move from Google bears strikingly similar parallels to the development of HealthKit and ResearchKit from Californian tech giant Apple.

ResearchKit works alongside Apple's HealthKit software, which allows iPhones to work with health and fitness apps that gather information on weight, blood pressure and glucose levels for example. 

Testing out those platforms recently was the King's College Hospital in London, which is piloting a scheme whereby cancer patients moving through chemotherapy treatments are also given an Apple Watch to manage their medication.  

But Google could be moving into new territory if it involves more hardware and gadgets to support its health platforms, for example more devices and ways to analyse and distribute data without the requirement to send results to a laboratory. 

Central to how well Apple and indeed Google’s offerings perform and advance, is in addressing how large companies such as these can effectively manage and keep sensitive health data secure. 

Brett Wells 

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