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Apple's healthy CareKit revolution

Ryan Faas | April 18, 2016
The CareKit framework enables developers and doctors to collect copious amounts of data -- and make sense of it all.

That tactic not only provides a level of consistency across CareKit apps, but also allows them to exchange information with each other or with ResearchKit apps and means they can interact with HealthKit data -- as long as Apple ensures that users allow such data sharing.

CareKit's four modules

CareKit offers developers just four modules for now. That may seem like a small number, but there is significant flexibility in how they can be used individually and integrated together. Although all four modules are available, it appears that Apple is allowing the use of only one or two if that's all that's needed for an app to accomplish its mission.

The Care Card module is essentially a treatment plan or medical to-do list. It can serve as a reminder to take meds, perform physical therapy, change bandages, perform self-tests (such as measuring heart rate/blood pressure, check range of motion, etc.), record information about conditions and let users note they've performed the tasks. It can also provide additional information like warning signs or things like food, medication or activities to avoid. Data in the Care Card module can also be updated by healthcare providers during an office visit or based on data shared by the app itself. This is a major component of Texas Medical Center's Postsurgical care app.

Care Card 
Think of the Care Card module as essentially a  medical to-do list. Credit: Apple

The Symptom and Measurement Tracker does exactly what its name implies: It allows users to record information about symptoms and other metrics related to a given condition. That's a broad description, but tracking different conditions can mean tracking very different things, including mood for users with depression; range of motion for those recovering from surgery or musculoskeletal injures; pain levels; vital signs like blood pressure or lung function; body temperature; and even photos of wounds or skin abnormalities. Additional relevant data could also be captured, either by being manually entered or recorded on an iPhone. (An asthma or COPD-related app could, for example, automatically record air quality data based on a user's location.)

Capturing this data allows users and healthcare providers to see trends over time and to build a much more accurate picture of a person's progress than you'd get from just periodic office visits.

The Insight Dashboard is probably the most significant module because it makes sense of the data recorded by the first two modules. At its most effective, it can combine those data sets and provide a better understanding of how treatment is working. The act of tracking adherence to a treatment plan or to medication needs is helpful in its own right. So is the act of tracking symptoms. Put them together and you can get a much fuller picture of the effectiveness of treatment and/or medication. Is a given pain med providing relief? Do the prescribed physical therapy exercises improve movement and/or relieve pain? Is an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication actually effective?


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