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Our bodies, ourselves: How CareKit apps will revolutionise health care

Caitlin McGarry | March 28, 2016
The iPhone will bridge the gap between quantifying our health and actually doing something about it.

“One of the most important things affecting the outcome of surgery is what you do in the recovery process, yet we go from being monitored by a team of highly trained specialists using leading edge technology to being discharged with a single sheet of paper,” Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams said during the CareKit announcement as part of Apple’s event on Monday. “This is your list of things to do, not to do, which days to do them on. Adherence to this is notoriously very poor. Using the CareKit modules, we’ve been working with TMC and they’ve created an app that guides you through the process in a totally different way.”

For Jennifer Tye, founder of women’s health startup Glow, one of the most important CareKit functions is Connect. Glow is implementing CareKit in two of its apps, the pregnancy-tracking Glow Nurture and the newborn parenting app Glow Baby. Pregnant women and new mothers often want to share data about their pregnancy or their newborn with family or a physician, and Tye told me CareKit integration will make that a whole lot easier. (Currently, the Glow Nurture pregnancy app lets you create a PDF of your data to email or print out and bring to your doctor’s office.)

CareKit goes beyond physical health. Start is a mental health app that will use the new framework to help those dealing with depression figure out if their medication is working or not.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, mental health was seen as a different province of health and it was very much a detached thing where you got treated for physical health in the doctor’s office and mental health care wherever you could get it,” said Thomas Goetz, founder of Start developer Iodine. “Mental health has a clear, often leading, role in physical health. Depression, anxiety, and pain are intertwined issues. If we can help people manage mental health, oftentimes you are helping them manage their physical health.”

Goetz told me that treatment for depression is difficult to quantify and so it requires a continuous feedback loop between a patient and clinician until the right medication and dose is found. CareKit will make that loop more elegant, he said, and allow Start users to provide more context around their treatment, like information about therapy and exercise.

Goetz noted that CareKit also has the potential to save health insurance companies money by helping people follow through on their treatments.

Why CareKit is so important

CareKit is phase three of Apple’s bigger health initiative, which began in earnest with the launch of HealthKit in 2014. The company saw that third-party health and fitness apps were collecting your data—from step counts to sleep to food intake—and keeping it in silos. The HealthKit framework pulls all of that information into one database, makes it viewable in the native Health app, and allows third-party apps to grab relevant data if you allow them to. ResearchKit launched last year as a way for medical researchers to widen their sample size—now anyone with an iPhone can participate in a study, and ResearchKit apps can tap into the phone’s sensors to collect more than just self-reported information. All of that research will be used to make medicine more precise, according to Apple COO Williams. The same could be said for CareKit apps.

 

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