Apple CareKit and the Future of Mobile Health Apps

Apple Health Apps – From Research to Care

Apple ResearchKit Research KitIn April 2014, Apple launched ResearchKit, an open source software framework that equips developers to build apps for medical research. ResearchKit apps enable research participants to remotely submit data collected on their iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches. ResearchKit apps are already helping care teams recruit and retain participants for research on several medical conditions, including what has become the largest ever study on Parkinson’s disease.

And now, Apple is releasing a new development framework, this time focusing on apps for individual patients.

Apple CareKit

Apple CareKit equips developers to build iOS apps with a focus on personal health management. CareKit apps help patients stay engaged in their own care—tracking symptoms, monitoring medication and collecting patient reported outcomes.

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[Related: Engaging Patients with mHealth Programs]

Yet despite their recent partnerships with major hospitals, Apple is not a medical software developer, and the patient-facing CareKit apps will likely be overshadowed by existing mobile health apps, like Epic MyChart, designed to integrate with the EHR systems that clinics already have in place, and allow patients to remotely access portions of their medical records.

While Apple is aiming for patient-facing CareKit apps to streamline the submission of patient reported data, this has many clinicians rightly skeptical about working with even more software, worrying that data security and interoperability issues may derail the potential benefits of mobile health apps.

Will a Health App a Day Keep the Patient Portal Away?

Apple CareKit apps offer similar advantages—and potential drawbacks—as software that many clinics are already using: EMR patient portals.

Patient portals are web-based resources that enable patients and their family caregivers to remotely complete many clinical ‘paperwork’ tasks from their home computers or mobile devices. By using patient portals, clinicians are able to streamline appointment booking, test result distribution and treatment pre-screening.

frustrated doctor emr health itBut many patient portals, like Epic MyChart, are tied to single EMRs, meaning it might be difficult to communicate patient information between physicians and specialists, or even between different departments of the same clinic. Many mobile health apps have the same limitation, particularly patient-facing apps that lock data into the app itself, and can’t even share information with other apps, let alone EMRs.

Interoperable mobile health apps are built to securely exchange data with multiple programs, from FitBits to hospital billing systems. And when developers combine the convenience of mobile frameworks, like Apple CareKit, with interoperability best practices, like the HL7 protocols, patients and providers will have health apps that keep patients engaged in their care while streamlining clinical workflows.

21st-Century Care

It remains to be seen if CareKit will lead to the health apps that finally combine personal mobile devices with medical technology on a massive scale, but it is certain that mobile devices are changing how patients engage in their care. And if care providers are to keep pace, they will need to implement the health IT best practices that keep clinical systems prepared to advance.