Apple hires Duke's Dr. Ricky Bloomfield, a HealthKit and ResearchKit pioneer

By Jonah Comstock
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Dr. Ricky Bloomfield, a doctor on the forefront of implementing both Apple HealthKit and Apple ResearchKit in his position as Director of Mobile Strategy at Duke University, will leave Duke to take a position on Apple's health team. A colleague of Bloomfield's broke the news on Twitter today and Apple confirmed the news.

The company declined to go into detail about what Bloomfield's role at Apple would be, but he's not the first high-profile hire the company has made lately. Since June 1st, the company has hired Dr. Rajiv B. Kumar, a pediatric endocrinologist from Stanford University with experience implementing Apple's HealthKit to help patients manage their diabetes; Dr. Stephen Friend, president and co-founder of Sage Bionetworks which built the data infrastructure for a number of ResearchKit apps; and Dr. Mike Evans, a Toronto doctor who boasts 70,000 followers on his medical-themed YouTube channel.

Bloomfield was at Duke in 2014 when Apple announced Apple Health and Apple HealthKit. Duke became one of the first hospitals to integrate with Apple HealthKit via Epic, and to use the platform to incorporate patient-generated health data into its EHR. The initial pilot used HealthKit to track blood pressure and weight for patients with cancer and heart conditions. Bloomfield and Ochsner CIO Richard Milani spoke about HealthKit at a packed session at 2014's mHealth Summit. Two years later, at MobiHealthNews's event in San Francisco, Bloomfield broke the news that Apple would add HealthKit support for the HL7 Continuity of Care Document to iOS 10.

ResearchKit, Apple's research-focused follow-up to HealthKit, also proved to be an area of interest for Bloomfield, who helped create Autism Beyond, Duke’s ResearchKit study designed to increase knowledge about how autism manifests in children. The study is looking at the application of a video analysis technology to quantify and analyze the emotions of children so that one day parents may be able to use it as a screening tool for conditions like autism, anxiety, and other behavior related conditions. 

Autism and Beyond includes a number of short surveys for parents and three videos for children to watch. As the kids watch the videos, which are based on the same kind of stimuli exercises child psychologists use during in-person behavior encoding sessions, Duke's app is using the iPhone's camera to analyze the child's expressions. Parents have the option of sending researchers the recorded video of their child along with the encoded data, or if they'd rather, they can opt to just send the analysis data without the full video recording. The video recordings the researchers do receive will also help them fine tune their algorithms.