Apple CareKit: Everything you need to know about the medical care framework

CareKit from Apple could revolutionize how doctors keep track of patients
Apple CareKit: What is it?

We live in an incredible age. Not only do we have tiny computers in our pockets that put the world's information at our fingertips, but research in areas like medicine are advancing faster than ever, largely thanks to tech. Apple is facilitating this, having launched ResearchKit last year, which opens the pool of people for testing medical research to every iPhone owner.

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Now, the company has launched another 'kit' in the form of CareKit, which essentially gives developers a way to create apps aimed at patient care. Here's everything you need to know about CareKit.

What exactly is CareKit?

Let's make something clear from the start - CareKit is not an app. Rather, CareKit is a framework that can be used by developers to create apps that help people manage their medical conditions and easily track and share information with their doctors. So, instead of 'using' CareKit, you might use an app that was developed using the CareKit framework.

One such app, for example, is aimed at helping those with Parkinson's Disease track how effective their medication is. Another example is an app built by the Texas Medical Center, and tracks patients after surgery ensuring they recover nicely after being discharged from the hospital.

One of the great things about CareKit is that it's open-source - any developer can access the code to build a CareKit app - which is Apple's way of making it easy to create apps that have both a clean user interface and work as they should.

In short, CareKit helps developers create apps that help patients play an active role in their own care.

It's important to note that CareKit-built apps don't work on every Apple device ever built, but Apple has clearly made an effort to bring them to as many devices as possible. CareKit apps work on the iPhone 5 or later (including the iPhone SE), as well as the latest iPod Touch, and often the Apple Watch too, depending on the app.

Why can't developers just make health apps?

Well, technically they could. CareKit, however, makes app development for medical foundations far more functional by allowing access to the sensors, like the gyroscope and accelerometer on the iPhone. The framework also includes a number of different modules, which can be customized according to the needs of the patient, and further built on to create apps as complex and comprehensive as the developer wants.

Here are the four modules that developers can build upon in CareKit:

  1. The Care Card module helps patients manage the tasks they need to perform to keep up with their treatment.
  2. The Symptom and Measurement Tracker helps users keep track of how effective their treatment is.
  3. Insights shows users users the relationship between their treatment and their progress.
  4. Last but not least, Connect helps users communicate with their doctors and other members of their care team, including friends and family.

How will CareKit help people?

The benefits for patients are clear - there's no extra tech needed. Simply use the iPhone to track progress, keep a list of what you need to do and even let your doctors see your progress.

But the benefits don't stop there.

CareKit could also be hugely helpful for researchers. If they are able to gain access to the data it could provide insight into developing new treatments and cures for diseases. Not only is the data being tracked by the iPhone directly related to particular diseases, it also comes from a huge pool of people - millions of people use an iPhone. Even if it's only coming from thousands of people with a particular disease, this could prove very important for researchers.

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"We're thrilled with the profound impact ResearchKit has already had on the pace and scale of conducting medical research, and have realized that many of the same principles could help with individual care," said Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams, in a statement.

What's the difference between CareKit, ResearchKit and HealthKit?

All three of these services represent Apple's push into tracking health.

HealthKit was the first of the three 'kits,' and is basically aimed at helping everyone keep track of their general fitness. Developers are able to create HealthKit-compatible apps that feed data into Apple's own health app essentially creating a hub where they can see their fitness-related data from multiple sources. In other words HealthKit is a way for different health apps on the same phone to converge in one, single place.

ResearchKit is a little different. As the name implies, ResearchKit is aimed more at researchers. The open source software collects data from iPhone users who download health monitoring apps and allow researchers to send along tasks to complete.

This is a huge deal since one of the biggest problems researchers face is finding enough people to take part in tests. The research conducted through ResearchKit can be done straight through the phone where everything is anonymous.

As explained, CareKit is similar to the other platforms, but not exactly the same. Like the other kits, it's centered on collecting health-related data, but it also helps patients track progress, and sends their data to doctors.

Does Apple see or share your data?

This is obviously a serious thing to consider - for example people suffering depression may not want Apple or others knowing about it (despite the fact that depression often still wrongly carries a social stigma). Worst case scenario would be if that information somehow became public - potential employers, friends, and so on, could simply look online to find some very personal information.

Of course, those things are unlikely to happen - Apple has said multiple times that it handles your data with the utmost care. In fact, it argues that the data is in your hands - you can decide which institutions get access to it, or if anyone gets access to it at all.

"We know how much you value the privacy of your information, and both ResearchKit and CareKit have been designed with that in mind. You choose which research studies you want to join, you control what information you provide to which apps, and you can always see the data you're sharing," says the company on its website.

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