WearDuke App-reciates OIT

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
By Alexis Kessenich

December 11 is National App Day – a day to celebrate the apps on our smart phones we just can’t live without. While Twitter, Instagram and Uber are steadily ranked most popular among college students, some first-year Duke students added a new one to their daily line-up this semester: the WearDuke app. 

The WearDuke app, created by the Duke Office of Information Technology (OIT), allows students enrolled in the WearDuke Initiative to participate in study surveys and track study points. Participants earn points for consistently wearing their watches and completing study surveys. These points can be cashed in for prizes at the end of each semester. The app also allows study researchers to collect wearable data through Apple’s HealthKit. Once downloaded, the app easily pairs with the students’ Apple Watch 3, which is what most participants have.

Geoff Ginsburg, M.D., and Susanne Haga, Ph.D., co-PIs in the WearDuke study, contracted OIT in early 2019 to create the mobile app for the WearDuke pilot study. 

“OIT’s primary role in the first year of this multi-year project was to develop the mobile app for iOS and build the secure infrastructure that collects the student’s health and survey data from their mobile devices,” said Hugh Thomas, team lead for mobile development with OIT. This data is then securely passed into the private Duke network to protect students’ privacy where the research team is able to analyze it. Only authorized faculty and staff have access to the data within the app. The data is intended to identify trends in the study population, yet allow the participants to remain anonymous. “We also provided the tools within the private network for researchers to analyze and aggregate the data.”

The app collects a wide range of health data from its users, including steps taken, distance walked, basal energy burned, active energy burned, flights climbed, time spent exercising, and number of hours with more than one minute of standing, as well as heart rate, walking heart rate, heart rate variability and sleep analysis. 

OIT plans to promote the WearDuke app to the broader research community at Duke. The infrastructure they built in both the mobile app and on the backend could be applied to research projects beyond WearDuke. “A lot of people across Duke are using wearables to collect data and want their data aggregated,” Thomas said, “but they don’t have a way of securely transferring it and don’t understand all of the FERPA or HIPAA requirements around that infrastructure.” The WearDuke app provides a platform to allow other researchers to develop projects using this infrastructure.

Ryan Shaw, Ph.D., director of the Duke Mobile App Gateway for Digital Health and WearDuke Investigator, presented the WearDuke Initiative, its current progress and the app at this fall’s Duke Digital Health Day 2019 on September 25. OIT also presented a poster on research resources available through ResearchKit by their iOS development team and featured the WearDuke app. 

Even though the pilot study has begun, OIT’s role in this project is not over. The team is busy working on updates for the next iteration, with feedback from the Enabling Precision Health and Medicine Bass Connections team, which will be ready when students return for the spring semester. They are also considering enhancements to the analysis tools for the second year of the WearDuke initiative. Currently, the way data is sent to the server requires some extra steps for the researchers to be able to format it to run reports. “Being able to automate some of that in the future is part of our plan,” Thomas said. Lastly, the OIT team hopes to expand to Android devices and other potential wearables in the future; currently the WearDuke app is only available for iOS.

“The WearDuke app is an essential component for us to easily collect data for this project, which will inform next year’s expanded pilot study where we hope to provide further information through the app based on student’s preferences and health behaviors,” said Haga. “OIT has been an invaluable partner for this project and the WearDuke team is excited to watch the app grow in response to the study’s needs.”