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Apple's CareKit Gives More Power to the Patient

By David Jones
Mar 23, 2016 12:23 PM PT

Perhaps worthy of more attention than it received at Apple's Loop You In event on Monday is CareKit. The open source platform will allow developers to create consumer-focused applications to help patients communicate with healthcare providers and closely monitor their own health conditions.

The company, which entered the medical research space in 2015 with the release of ResearchKit, will use CareKit to expand the range of applications designed to automate the communications among researchers, medical field workers, patients and others in the healthcare space.

Following the release of ResearchKit, Apple realized that many of the same tools could be expanded to patient care, Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said.

"When we introduced ResearchKit, our goal was simply to improve medical research, and we thought our work was largely done," he said. "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."

Building on Research

The first app to be released under CareKit is Parkinson mPower, which was developed by the University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks to monitor Parkinson's disease, Williams said.

carekit parkinson's

Released last year, it has more than 10,000 participants, making it the world's largest research study of the disease, according to Apple. The app helps researchers understand Parkinson's by measuring dexterity, gait, balance and memory using a gyroscope and other features on the iPhone using a tap test.

Another app, Care Card from the Texas Medical Center, was designed to help monitor postsurgical patients.

Other apps using the CareKit framework are Glow's Glow Nurture, to help pregnant women monitor their conditions; Iodine's Start, for monitoring patients on antidepressants; and One Drop, for monitoring diabetic patients.

Smartphone Behavior

Smartphones carry additional levels of data about individuals that personal computers cannot approach, said Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research. By creating apps designed to monitor health conditions, Apple essentially can provide intimate, detailed information on consumer behavior in a way that previously was not available on a large scale.

"Apple CareKit has the promise of linking all those things our phones already know about us to our personal and medical data," he told TechNewsWorld.

ResearchKit was designed to help researchers conduct massive medical studies using apps designed for the iPhone. The launch included a series of medical studies on asthma, breast cancer, heart disease and Parkinson's disease, among others.

Along with CareKit, Apple announced a new round of research studies, including one on postpartum depression from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Additionally, customers of 23andMe can participate in a heart disease study using the MyHeart Counts app developed by Stanford Medicine and an asthma study by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and LifeMap Solutions.

Apple is one of the few major companies that has made significant inroads into the medical app space by incorporating its smartphone and smartwatch technology into a growing list of consumer and business applications, said C4 Trends analyst Susan Schreiner.

"It is among the few major companies that fully grasps the consumerization of health," she told TechNewsWorld, "and the opportunities not only directly to consumers, but also in relation to payers, providers and innovation."

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

How do you feel about the latest wave of automation fueled by tech advances?
It's happening much too quickly, and too many jobs are at stake.
Automation means progress -- it's inevitable.
It depends on the quality of the systems and how they're used.
Automation fosters ignorance by taking over too many human tasks.
Automation frees people from boring, mind-numbing jobs.