Release of CareKit Brings Apple into the Healthcare Arena
The latest news from Apple should come as no surprise but their latest apps have set the industry astir. Not a company to sit around, Apple has a new slant on healthcare apps and the launch of CareKit apps could be a huge success or a failure, depending on whether or not doctors jump on board to make this a successful endeavour.
Apple Gives Healthcare App Developers and Open Source Platform
Healthcare apps are typically created by developers who have one goal in mind. Many are developed for self-management of very specific diseases and conditions. CareKit by Apple, on the other hand, is an open source app that gives developers the tools they need to effectively create iPhone apps without going through various stages and degrees of coding. It’s all in the app. The apps being created using CareKit will better help patients to self-manage their conditions and share information with their healthcare providers.
First Apps Made with CareKit
On 28 April, four apps made with CareKit were released by Apple. These include one app to help patients manage diabetes and another to track and log symptoms related to depression. This ushers in the age of true healthcare for the industry giant that is far removed from apps that simply track health and fitness or collect data for scientific research. Unfortunately, at this time only one-fifth of doctors in the United States, where the app was released, use digital health apps and electronic records. Because of this, it is difficult to forecast what kind of impact CareKit will have over the long term.
CareKit, ResearchKit and HealthKit Share Some Features
Previously released by Apple for iPhone was the HealthKit platform that utilised the device’s sensors to collect an assortment of health-related metrics. Also launched by Apple was ResearchKit that gave scientists the tools necessary to recruit people for studies they were conducting. Each of these were for iPhone technology. Similar to these, CareKit enables users to track such things as intake of food, weight loss/gain and even levels of activity throughout the day. However, unlike other apps, CareKit was not designed simply for research or simply for fitness tracking. In other words, CareKit was not designed only for patients and consumers, CareKit is also for developers working with physicians who just might want to collect specific metrics for monitoring their patients.
CareKit Framework Released to Developers
With the 28 April release of CareKit’s framework to developers, Apple is allowing for the integration of four different modules that are built into this single app. In one module, developers can design plans for patient care such as for care after surgery and this would be an interactive module. Another of the modules is to be used for measuring symptoms and the remaining two are for communications with the patient’s healthcare provider and for measuring treatment outcomes all based on the patient’s responses over a certain period of time.
A New Playing Field for Apple
With Apple entering the healthcare arena in a totally new way, many believe they will be presented with challenges the company hadn’t been faced with for other innovations they have successfully launched. According to one biomedical ethicist, Arthur Caplan of New York University, digital apps are the future of medicine. It is inevitable that apps will be designed to provide much needed information to healthcare providers while helping people take a role in their own healthcare, and that is good, Caplan believes.
However, will Apple be up to the challenge? Healthcare is totally different than any other field Apple sought to lead and he notes that one of the biggest challenges will be in terms of getting doctors on board with using the apps. He says that doctors are often wary of something that claims to be able to cut back on the time they need to spend with their patients because in his way of thinking, doctors tend not to be amongst the most tech savvy people in the world. He advises Apple to tread lightly in this arena.
A Special Focus on Quality Control
Since much of the information gathered by the Apple CareKit will be sensitive in terms of patient privacy and confidentiality, Apple is placing a great deal of emphasis on the issue of quality control. They have made this quite clear on the App Store site and have provided guidelines for developers to be extremely careful in making apps. They have even included a clause that would prohibit giving any information over to third parties for the purpose of such things as data mining or marketing. As well, Apple says they will summarily reject any apps that offer treatments or diagnoses without first getting approval from the FDA.
Even so, the onus will ultimately fall into the hands of an apps developer when working with CareKit. To date, those companies that have launched apps with CareKit have stated empirically that all data that is identifiable will remain on a user’s mobile phone whilst the information uploaded to servers will be anonymous. However, it still remains to be seen if this is enough to encourage people to use the apps even with Apple’s big win in a legal battle with the FBI on the matter of encryption.
Can Users Be Assured Data Will Be Secure?
This is the biggest uphill battle Apple will need to fight. One of the companies Apple chose to try their new CareKit in the beginning is One Drop, a new tech company focusing on diabetes apps. One Drop said they could have produced the same app they did with CareKit but not nearly as quickly since this toolkit gave them a framework to work within that in their words is “elegant.” Since metrics are shared amongst diabetes patients to help them track symptoms and provide their doctors with reports, privacy is paramount.
Another startup chosen by Apple to use the toolkit is Glow that focuses on pregnancy through the first year of a baby’s life. The third, and final of the initial launches, came from Start which is aimed at sufferers of depression. With CareKit, an app has been developed by Start that gives patients the ability to share information on their progress with their doctors. In each of these three initial apps, great care was given to maintain confidentiality of patient data and as the apps were approved by Apple, this should be a big step in getting users on board in the future.