Apple releases its open source CareKit framework, adds Cleveland Clinic as early adopter

By Jonah Comstock
04:21 pm

Apple announced CareKit, its new development framework for clinical care apps, at a special event in March. Today the framework went live for all developers, but three had early access. Those three developers unveiled their CareKit-enhanced apps today too. 

“CareKit is a framework of modules that are being open-sourced to the world,” Jeffrey Dachis, founder and CEO of One Drop, one of the initial developers, told MobiHealthNews. “Those modules will enable any health organization with limited resources to stand up an elegant, sophisticated, user-centric health app that can be useful in utilizing all the sensors and connectivity that the iPhone offers as well as connect some of that information to a coach, family member, or doctor, and track the progress of a plan you put into place over time.”

CareKit currently includes four modules: CareCard, which helps patients track care plans and action items; Symptom and Measurement Tracker, which helps patients keep a log of their experiences; Insights Dashboard which integrates the care plan data from CareCard with the symptom data from the Symptom and Measurement tracker to create insights about the effectiveness of treatments; and Connect, which helps patients share data with their providers or other caregivers. 

The three groups launching CareKit apps today — diabetes management app maker One Drop, medication data aggregation company Iodine, and Glow, which makes a suite of reproductive health apps for women — all made use of the Connect module, although some used other modules as well.

“I find it interesting that the Connect module is something that all of us early launch partners have integrated with,” Jennifer Tye, VP of partnerships and marketing at Glow told MobiHealthNews. “I think of CareKit as part of this movement toward arming consumers with more information about their health and putting the power in their hands. It’s what we’ve been doing for reproductive health for the last few years and I think with CareKit more people can start to do that now in other areas of health as well.”

Glow incorporated the Connect module into two of their four apps, Glow Nurture, an app for pregnant women, and Glow Baby, an app for new mothers. The apps already had a feature that collected information that users logged into a PDF report for a pediatrician or OB-GYN. Connect makes it easier for users to send that information to their healthcare providers. 

Thomas Goetz, co-founder of Iodine, admitted that while the Connect feature streamlines the patient side of submitting data, it doesn’t address the perennial problems on the provider side of EHR integration or fitting patient data into doctors’ workflows. But he hopes the Apple effect will help normalize patients sending data to doctors, which will eventually lead to doctors solving the problem on their end. 

“I talk to so many doctors and hospitals and insurers and they kind of understand the potential of digital health and mobile tools for health, but frankly they don’t have a sense of how to get started or what is an effective way to use these tools,” Goetz said. “There’s too much noise out there. Having Apple lay out a framework for health apps and to actually connect to the day-to-day reality of clinical care, that is a huge signal to the healthcare industry, but it’s also a huge move toward the standardized flow. Don’t underestimate the power of Apple saying ‘this is a pretty good process for connecting patient experience and integrating it into clinical decisions.’ That’s part of what’s starting to emerge in CareKit and that’s some of the value.”

In addition to Connect, Iodine and One Drop are also making use of the CareCard feature that helps patients generate a care plan, and One Drop is incorporating the symptom tracker as well. 

While Iodine, Glow, and One Drop are the first to launch CareKit features, four developers connected to hospitals were also given early access to the framework. They will be coming out with their apps in the near future. Beth Isreal Deaconess is working on an app for chronic condition management, the University of Rochester is developing a Parkinson’s tool, Texas Medical Center is developing care coordination tools, and Cleveland Clinic is working on a CareKit app for asthma and COPD patients. 

Jay Alberts, vice chair of health-enabling technologies at Cleveland Clinic, told MobiHealthNews that his team is using the CareCard and Insights Dashboard modules to build an app that will help patients track their symptoms and engage with their health.

“In the CareKit case we developed an app that will be really targeted toward COPD and also asthma patients,” he said. “There’s quite an overlap there. We’re trying to look at it more as an orchard than individual apples. We’re trying to build a framework or an approach that can serve multiple patient groups.”

Alberts said that the Cleveland Clinic’s app is due out in mid- to late-May.

Overall, the early CareKit adopters were optimistic about the framework, but mostly for the opportunity it could provide to unite different stakeholders around the idea of patient empowerment.

“I think the game-changing aspect of CareKit is what it represents for the future,” Dasich said. “CareKit is the beginnings of a great step toward empowering users with their own data to make better choices, and a simple, elegant and sophisticated way to connect them. It represents a game changer, but it’s just an initial step in that direction. It’s a great first step, but it’s a long journey ahead of us.”


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