Apple Introduces Health App ‘CareKit’

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Janani Ravikumar
Staff Writer

On Mar. 21, Apple announced the release of CareKit, a new health application designed to empower people to take a more active role in their health. With the new app, it’s easier for iPhone users to keep track of care plans and monitor symptoms and medication, as well as share information with doctors, nurses and family members.

CareKit operates under a similar design to another app called ResearchKit, which helps scientists run studies through apps available in the Apple Store.

“We’re thrilled with the profound impact ResearchKit has already had on the pace and scale of conducting medical research, and realized that many of the same principles could help with individual care,” Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said in Apple’s press release.

“We believe that giving individuals the tools to understand what is happening with their health is incredibly powerful, and apps designed using CareKit make this a reality by empowering people to take a more active role in their care,” he continued.

ResearchKit is an open source framework which can be used by researchers and developers to create apps for medical research — for example, by visual content flows, real-time dynamic active tasks and surveys using customizable modules that can be built upon and shared with the community. ResearchKit can also be used to access relevant data variables, such as daily step counts, calorie intake and heart rate.

However, CareKit’s focus is on the patients, helping them properly monitor their symptoms and communicate with their healthcare providers.

“When we introduced ResearchKit, our goal was simply to improve medical research and we thought our work was largely done,” Williams said, according to Tech News World. “What became clear to us later was the very same tools used to advance medical research can also be used to help people with their care.”

The first app built with CareKit, Parkinson mPower, was developed last year by the University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks to monitor Parkinson’s Disease, Tech News World reports. With more than 10,000 participants, it became the world’s largest research study of the disease, and the app helped researchers understand the illness by measuring dexterity, gait, balance and memory through a tap test on the iPhone.

Other apps include Care Card, which helps monitor post-surgical patients and Glow Nurture, which helps pregnant women monitor their conditions. They also include Iodine’s Start, which monitors patients on antidepressants, and One Drop, which monitors diabetic patients.

According to Informationweek, patient information has traditionally existed only in physicians’ and hospitals’ databases. With CareKit, this data is now being pooled together with other patients’ data around the world, providing a new, broader, more diverse context that transcends geographical boundaries. For example, an asthma study was able to discover triggers from all 50 states, and a diabetes study was able to determine several different subtypes within Type 2 diabetes.

In light of Apple’s recent struggle with the FBI in regards to security, open source frameworks like CareKit can, by extension, compromise patients’ privacy, especially since there is no guarantee whether patients’ information will be absolutely protected.

“Our phones will become more than just extensions of ourselves. They’re not just the equivalent of a photo album or a stack of telegraphs,” Wired journalist Brian Barrett said. “They’re our diseases and our therapies, heartbeats and breaths. If anything, the idea of sharing that much even with our devices should make us squeamish, especially given that even strong encryption isn’t always fully safe.”

“The idea that anyone would actively attempt to weaken an already fragile system, with this kind of information at stake, seems unthinkable,” Barrett said, “especially when ‘anyone’ is a law enforcement agency.”

According to Macworld, CareKit will officially be released in spring 2016, though some select developers have already begun working with the network.