By Greg Smith

Comrad Chief Technology Officer

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Background

As of December 2015 there were 2.5 billion smartphones and this is estimated to grow to almost 5 billion by 2020 (Mobile is eating the world). Apple and Google continue to innovate their underlying mobile platforms and in the race to stay ahead are releasing new frameworks with the intention of capturing new markets and channels.

 One such development framework which has recently been released by Apple is CareKit. Apple announced the open-source software CareKit framework last month with the aim of making it easier for developers to build health apps on iOS devices.

Key Features

CareKit works in a similar way to Apple’s ResearchKit which enables developers to obtain large amounts of research data over iOS devices. The CareKit framework integrates with health apps to help patients manage treatment and can be used to help doctors monitor patient progress and rehabilitation and share information with a patient care team.

The framework includes four modules which were designed by Apple with the following scenarios in mind: administering a care plan; measuring symptoms; viewing insights on a dashboard to determine whether treatments are working; and sharing health reports with doctors, care teams or family members to inform about changes in health conditions.

These features signal a real step by Apple into the realm of primary and secondary healthcare as opposed to being a tool for scientific research or basic health tracking. There is potential for CareKit data to integrate with information contained in electronic health record systems and be used to enrich longitudinal patient records and enhance post-treatment care. This is of particular importance in countries that are transitioning to outcome-based funding in order to drive cost-reducing innovation among healthcare providers and achieve a financially sustainable healthcare system.

Challenges

There are a number of challenges facing CareKit which may prevent widespread adoption. The first is in convincing patients, caregivers and doctors to use apps developed using CareKit if the platform is restricted to iOS and the Apple ecosystem. According to NetMarketShare, the ratio of Android users to iOS users is approximately two-to-one which means software vendors may also be reluctant to invest in developing applications using CareKit if a significant part of the potential user base is unable to participate (NetMarketShare). Another difficulty facing users is that the app store ecosystem provides an overwhelming choice of applications to solve a specific problem and this could result in quantity over quality with very little to differentiate applications which use the CareKit framework from each other.

Lastly, although apps need to follow specific guidelines in order to be publicly released, Apple will also have to work very hard to convince users that their data is secure.

Summary

With the assistance of CareKit, Apple sees an opportunity to connect patients, doctors, and caregivers using its mobile technology. Its flagship devices, such as iPhone and Apple Watch are continuously collecting health information using sensor-based technology and these offer a powerful platform to aggregate data and put it into the hands of a care team. Empowering patients to play an active role in their own medical care while providing doctors with more a complete picture of their patients’ health and progress will help to improve health outcomes and drive down costs.

Apple CareKit will be available to developers worldwide starting in autumn 2016. Visit Apple website for more info: http://apple.co/1TEhywG.