6 things to know about Apple’s CareKit application before diving in


Apple has officially done it again.

First, it was HealthKit. Then, it was ResearchKit. And as of March 2016, they crossed the chasm from company to consumer, announcing the newest addition to their suite of healthcare applications: CareKit.

As explained by Apple in their announcement in March, CareKit is a software framework geared toward consumers, specifically consumers who require digital tools to help them track chronic medical conditions, symptoms, and medications. CareKit brings to the table a framework of UX modules – care plans, dashboards, trackers, and platforms for care teams –  so organizations can accelerate their development of digital health solutions.




But before you dive in, here’s what you need to know about using CareKit to build a healthcare application:

1.    Apple made a smart move.

Apple controls the application market in a sometimes overwhelming and scary way, but their entry into the consumer health field was calculated and smart. Applications that track health behaviors are in huge demand right now, and Apple was smart to move in. They waited for the market to grow, did their research, and CareKit is, in many ways, exactly what many of us have been waiting for.

Of course, Apple does bring their own gravitas to digital health – they always do – but I believe that their perspective will only help us. If they keep investing and expanding their footprint in digital health, this can only help to push the industry as a whole forward with greater speed and accountability.

2.   CareKit is different from ResearchKit in several important ways.

ResearchKit launched in March 2015, and it has proved out in exactly the same way as CareKit is likely to do, but in another arena entirely. ResearchKit gave companies the building blocks needed to create a solution (usually a clinical trial), quickly. With their release of CareKit, Apple is crossing the chasm from clinical use and company clients, to consumer use and preventative medicine.

3.   CareKit’s usefulness hinges on four modules.

These modules include:

Care Card: Using data collected by an Apple Watch or an iphone, this module focuses on treatment monitoring for medications or physical therapies. It helps practitioners track goal progress, behaviors, and adherence.

Symptom and Measurement Tracker: By allowing users to survey and self-report their well-being and symptoms, the tracker module adds another component to Care Card, hopefully allowing for a more complete view of patient health.

Insight Dashboard: Building off of the data collected by the Tracker and Care Card, this module will help patients and clinicians analyze their data in a meaningful way.

Connect: This module allows for the easy sharing of data and communication between members of a patient’s care team, including physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, family members, and other loved ones.

Obviously care plans and behavior trackers aren’t a new addition to the market. There are many clinically validated versions of these tools out there already, but these modules are important building blocks for creating an application that considers the entirety of a patient’s health.

The Insight Dashboard could eventually become incredibly interesting, allowing for self discovery, right in your lap. Think: sleep patterns, the aggregation of data, caffeine intake, behavioral nuances… this tool has the potential to empower patients in an incredible way.

The Connect module is, at least for me, the biggest deal of the bunch. Connectivity and interoperability are problems that comes up often in almost every area of care – and it’s a problem that no one has quite been able to solve. By putting the patient at the center through Care Card and the Tracker, tracking their behavior at the clinic, at home, at work, and out in the world, and then surrounding that same patient with all the members of a care team, all in the space of one application, Apple may have totally changed the game.

4. CareKit will help you build your application.

The best thing about CareKit, like ResearchKit, is that it will give you the tools you need to take an idea to market, quickly. With that piece of the puzzle freed up, you can use your time to think smartly about bigger issues like user engagement, user experience, and the psychological principles behind promoting healthy behavior.

5. But CareKit won’t help you solve adoption, security, or user experience problems.

As I mentioned above, CareKit does a lot: it gives you a good baseline and lays down the plumbing. But as with Apple’s other tools, you’ll still have to build around it, doing the work to watch out for potential pitfalls.

Privacy and security issues have become more and more center stage in digital health, but Apple still doesn’t have a solution that will keep you up to date with data storage, security issues, and HIPAA compliance. You should be careful to watch out for those issues, and to hire consulting help if you’re worried that your application is lacking security or compliance. Nothing tanks an application faster than a security breach.

Another common problem that we see fairly often is around adoption (ie. how do I get people to start using my app, and to keep using it for a long time?). Unfortunately, CareKit doesn’t solve for this either. It helps you build something that looks – and runs – great, but it doesn’t help you keep people in the app over time. That part of the puzzle is all about the psychology behind goal setting and user behavior. It involves thinking deeply about the reasons behind bringing people into the app.

6. There are 6 organizations using CareKit already.

Apple has predicted that CareKit will be used mostly for applications geared toward behavior tracking and chronic illness: post-surgical progress, physical therapy, diabetes management, mental health, pregnancy, and more.

Right now, there are a few applications that have used CareKit already. They’re serving as a sort of testing ground for what’s to come – Sage Bionetworks, Texas Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, One Drop, Start, by Iodine, and Glow, Inc.

In their March press announcement, Apple said their CareKit tools would be available for open source use in April. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that front, but I do think that Apple’s move into this space is smart for them, and smart for us.

Digital health these days is a bloodsport. If your solution solves a real need, and if it’s built well, then it has a true chance at survival. But this industry is all about acceleration and focus, both of which CareKit is built to supply. CareKit will be hugely useful in bridging the last mile to the patient, freeing up organizations to focus on creating holistic user experiences that delight and engage.

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