CareKit ex­plained

Why you should care about Ap­ple’s med­i­cal-care app

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

An­nounced near the start of Ap­ple’s ‘Let us loop you in’ March press event, CareKit is a new soft­ware frame­work that’s de­signed to help app devel­op­ers build soft­ware fo­cused on med­i­cal care. Based on this frame­work we can ex­pect new soft­ware for the iPhone and Ap­ple Watch that en­ables pa­tients to mon­i­tor on­go­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions, track medicine in­take and ex­er­cise, and share the data with their doc­tors.

What CareKit means for users

At first, not much. The clue is the suf­fix ‘Kit’: like Ap­ple’s HealthKit, CarKit, HomeKit and Re­searchKit, CareKit is a plat­form that app devel­op­ers will use to build new of­fer­ings rather than a prod­uct in it­self. (‘Kit’ is a ab­bre­vi­a­tion of soft­ware de­vel­oper kit, or SDK, which is what frame­works like this are called more gen­er­ally.)

As a mem­ber of the pub­lic and a user of Ap­ple’s prod­ucts, you won’t ‘use’ CareKit in the usual sense – but in the near fu­ture those with spe­cific med­i­cal or care needs may well find them­selves us­ing third-party soft­ware de­signed us­ing it.

CareKit makes it much sim­pler for devel­op­ers to cre­ate apps that track med­i­cal care. Ac­tiv­i­ties can be tracked us­ing sen­sors in the Ap­ple Watch or the iPhone, in­clud­ing the ac­celerom­e­ter and gy­ro­scope. Data can be shared across mul­ti­ple CareKit apps or with doc­tors or rel­a­tives.

One ex­am­ple Ap­ple of­fers is an up­com­ing app called EpiWatch, which al­lows you to send a no­ti­fi­ca­tion to a friend of rel­a­tive when a seizure is im­mi­nent; an­other called Start, by Io­dine, helps peo­ple tak­ing an­tide­pres­sants to es­tab­lish whether their med­i­ca­tion is pro­duc­ing the de­sired re­sults. But the pos­si­bil­i­ties are limited only by the imag­i­na­tion of devel­op­ers, which is one of Ap­ple’s strong suits.

You can read about some of the CareKit apps cur­rently be­ing de­vel­oped on Ap­ple’s web­site (ap­ple.com/re­searchkit).

Aside from the ben­e­fits of the apps and the abil­ity they give you to mon­i­tor and mea­sure the progress of your med­i­cal care, there is a po­ten­tial wider ben­e­fit: if health or­gan­i­sa­tions are able to gain ac­cess to the data shared from CareKit apps, this holds enor­mous re­search ben­e­fits. It’s con­ceiv­able that the po­ten­tially rich data source rep­re­sented by the iPhone’s huge in­stall base will speed up the de­vel­op­ment of med­i­cal treat­ments, although data pri­vacy is a fac­tor to con­sider here.

“We’re thrilled with the pro­found im­pact Re­searchKit has al­ready had on the pace and scale

of con­duct­ing med­i­cal re­search, and have re­alised that many of the same prin­ci­ples could help with in­di­vid­ual care,” said Ap­ple chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Jeff Wil­liams, in a 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.”

Data pri­vacy

Po­ten­tially trou­bling; en­abling per­sonal data to be shared be­tween apps and with other peo­ple is a worry in it­self, but the data we’re talk­ing about here can be ex­cep­tion­ally sen­si­tive. Those suf­fer­ing de­pres­sion, for ex­am­ple – which still, wrongly, car­ries a so­cial stigma in many cir­cles – may be mor­ti­fied to have that in­for­ma­tion en­ter the pub­lic sphere; those ap­ply­ing for a job or an in­surance pol­icy may suf­fer ma­te­ri­ally from the leak­ing of med­i­cal de­tails; and grave dis­tress could be caused if rel­a­tives in­ad­ver­tently stum­ble across news of a life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion that was be­ing with­held un­til an ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment. This be­ing Ap­ple, we would ar­gue that data pri­vacy is likely to be well han­dled - even though the com­pany has not been im­mune to data leaks in the past. Nev­er­the­less Ap­ple’s re­cent stand against the FBI makes us con­fi­dent in say­ing that the com­pany’s in­ten­tions in this area are sound.

It does, how­ever, raise the stakes of any fu­ture bat­tles Ap­ple fights with gov­ern­men­tal or law en­force­ment bod­ies ea­ger to gain ac­cess to iPhone data. Ap­ple ap­pears to have beaten the FBI this time; are you con­fi­dent it will do so in the fu­ture?

What CareKit means for devel­op­ers

Devel­op­ers will be able to use CareKit – which is open-source – to build med­i­cally fo­cused apps for the iPhone and Ap­ple Watch.

It is based around four mod­ules: Care Card, which tracks an in­di­vid­ual’s care plan and ‘ac­tion items’, such as medicine or phys­i­cal ex­er­cise; Symp­tom and Mea­sure­ment Tracker, which records symp­toms, tem­per­a­ture mea­sure­ments, and so on; In­sight Dash­board, which com­bines the data from the first two mod­ules so you can tell if treat­ments are work­ing; and Con­nect, for shar­ing data with doc­tors and fam­ily mem­bers. But, be­cause CareKit is open-source, devel­op­ers should be able to build ex­ten­sively from Ap­ple’s start­ing point.

Ap­ple has an­nounced that CareKit will be avail­able to devel­op­ers world­wide “start­ing in spring 2016” – and in a sep­a­rate re­lease was more spe­cific in pledg­ing that it would be re­leased as an open-source frame­work in April 2016. But it’s clear (based on the ‘com­ing soon’ apps listed on the CareKit web page) that a more se­lect group of app devel­op­ers have be­gun work­ing with the frame­work al­ready.

If you’re an app de­vel­oper and you want to use CareKit, get in touch with Ap­ple (us­ing the email ad­dress carekit@ap­ple.com) and try your hand.

David Price

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