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Apple Event

Apple CareKit Lets Patients And Researchers Team Up To Help Each Other

New open-source platform gives patients more access to their medical data to manage conditions, and lets them share info with researchers.

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

At Monday's launch event, Apple announced CareKit, a new tool that lets patients share data with researchers and keep tabs on their medical conditions.

CareKit, which comes out of Apple's medical-research platform, ResearchKit, is intended for a broad spectrum of patients, not just people taking part in medical studies. Any health-app maker can use it to make it easier for patients to share their health information with physicians, friends, or family members who take care of them. Users can also pull in other information about their health, such as exercise results.

The software is free and open-source, meaning it could, in theory, even work on other platforms like Android, says Thomas Goetz, founder of Iodine, which is one of six CareKit launch partners.

His company's app, Start, allows patients with depression to track how well their medications are working and report symptoms back to their doctors. Goetz says that CareKit has made it easier to design the app they wanted. "It solved a lot of that UX [user experience] design that we've been wresting with," he says.

Apple announced that CareKit will launch in April. Along with Iodine, HealthKit is launching with five other partners (or groups of partners).

Texas Medical Center Postsurgical care app (left) Beth Israel Deaconess Chronic conditions care app

Sage Bionetworks and the University of Rochester are updating their ResearchKit-based program on Parkinson's disease to provide insights to patients. Texas Medical Center has developed an app for cardiothoracic surgery patients to incorporate health data from Bluetooth devices such as blood pressure monitors and also to report symptoms back to doctors. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center will also incorporate info from health monitoring devices, though it hasn't provided many details yet. Diabetes-management app One Drop will integrate data like blood glucose measurements, insulin doses, carbohydrate intake, and physical activity. Glow, Inc. will incorporate CareKit modules into its pregnancy and child health management apps, Glow Nurture and Glow Baby.

Four Easy Pieces

CareKit has four components. Care Card is intended to help patients track activities like taking medication and doing exercise. Symptom and Measurement Tracker is for recording symptoms and data like body temperature or blood pressure. Insight Dashboard links data from the first two components to see how well a treatment plan is working. And Connect allows patients to share that health info with others.

Iodine uses Care Card to improve the app's function of allowing patients with depression to track their symptoms, in order to shorten the amount of time (typically six to nine months) it takes to find the antidepressant that works best. "It’s that kind of context that surrounds the condition, in our case the conditions of depression and mental health," says Goetz.

The connect component makes it much easier for the app to share info with caretakers, says Goetz, calling the company's initial attempt at this "a half step." CareKit will "start to knit the patient information back to the clinician in a meaningful way," says Goetz.

Current applications of ResearchKit hint at other ways that CareKit can be used. Apple highlighted several of them during its keynote presentation and in a video on its website.

They include a program by Duke University and the University of Cape Town to diagnose autism. Their Autism & Beyond iPhone app shows videos to children and uses the front-facing camera to measure their facial expressions to judge what kinds of reactions they have, such as neutral, happy, or sad. EpiWatch is an Apple Watch app by Johns Hopkins University that lets epilepsy patients input their symptoms, info about seizures, medication, and events that they think may have triggered seizures. It combines that with heart rate, accelerometer, and gyroscope data from the Apple Watch or a connected iPhone. The goal is to learn enough about epilepsy to create an early warning app telling patients when they are likely to have a seizure.

Apple isn't alone in developing a health research platform. Google Life Sciences (recently renamed Verily) developed an app called "Study Kit" as part of its effort to develop a baseline for what constitutes a healthy individual. But it's not nearly as far along as ResearchKit, and Google doesn't yet seem to have anything like CareKit for apps that directly serve consumers. That may not be necessary, though, since Apple's CareKit is an open-source platform that might even work with Android devices.

"If somebody does that work in porting it into an Android context, that would be something we would use," says Goetz.

UPDATE: This article has been corrected to clarify when CareKit will launch and include additional info provided by One Drop.

Related: Apple Event Recap: From The iPhone SE To The New CareKit

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