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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.

Finally, the Connect module provides simple but key functionalities; it shares the information the app collects. Typically, this will be with a healthcare provider or care team, but it can also include a partner or spouse, parents, or anyone else a person trusts and who needs to know how that person is doing.

CareKit and HealthKit

Like Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit, CareKit isn't a product in itself. It's a set of frameworks that enables a clear and consistent approach to tracking and managing data related to specific conditions. HealthKit, however, offers a single dashboard -- the Health app -- where users can track all the data collected by HealthKit-enabled apps and devices.

Although CareKit apps will almost certainly be able to read and write data from the Health app, Apple doesn't appear to be creating a single dashboard for CareKit-related information. This makes sense given that each CareKit app can, and almost certainly will, contain its own Insight Dashboard module specific to the conditions and metrics it tracks.

One advantage of HealthKit is that it facilitates information sharing with healthcare providers' systems. That's largely because of HealthKit support in apps from various manufacturers of electronic medical records systems and/or patient portals. They allow HealthKit data (once authorized by a user) to be passed through an app to the associated system where it becomes part of a user's medical record. (Data can also be passed from such apps into the Health app.)

It isn't clear how much data, particularly Insight data, will be shared this way, though any data a CareKit app writes into the Health app could be shared automatically. Exactly what level of automatic sharing is allowed and whether it's processed through HealthKit or directly communicated to a provider's systems remains to be seen; it will likely vary from app to app.

Provider vs. third-party commercial apps

One of the interesting things about CareKit is that apps will be created by two broad categories of organizations. The first is healthcare providers themselves -- hospitals, medical groups, insurance companies, physician practices, etc. Texas Medical Center's Postsurgical care app is an excellent example (as is that discharge app concept I discussed early on). And then there are third-party developers, companies that produce health-related apps for the general public but aren't associated with a specific provider. Both will provide value, but there will be some notable differences.

Apps developed by a provider will more likely allow a user to share data with and receive updates from a care team. Since these apps will be designed to work with a specific hospital, medical group or practice, they will tie into the backend systems used by those providers (including, but not limited to, electronic health records, patient portals and internal communications systems). The shared data will also likely be mapped to a provider's clinical workflows, meaning that doctors, nurses and others will be expecting to receive the data, have processes in place to review it and have a plan for how to respond if needed.


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