Apple has now publicly committed to disrupting the healthcare industry by releasing CareKit, a framework for eHealth apps that integrates patient health data in a new class of iOS applications.

The roots of this initiative might lie in the shared experience of Apple executives witnessing the health struggles faced by company co-founder Steve Jobs in the final years of his life. However, the potential to transform medicine with Big Data makes it an intelligent move in response to a growing opportunity that the medical community is just now beginning to explore.

Engaging Patients In Support Of Research

Apple is following up on the company’s ResearchKit framework that assists medical researchers in gathering data in the field. The focus for CareKit is on helping patients to become more aware and engaging in the maintenance of their well-being. It is not a singular solution; rather, it is the framework for addressing problems with solutions by creating eHealth apps for the iOS platform.

Apple appears to be acting on a vision of the future that is shared by many professionals and institutions in healthcare. The company has created a role for itself as the driving force behind an app ecosystem that could revolutionize the way that patients, clinicians, and healthcare providers interact, much as the iPhone has done for apps in general.

Putting A Framework Into The Platform

Throughout the economy, Big Data is providing opportunities to integrate solutions to monitor and understand data-intensive information systems in real-time. The framework is designed to facilitate app creation for startups and established healthcare organizations to integrate patients more directly into medical care and research.

The potential in CareKit-based apps is multifaceted. The engagement of directly connecting with a patient via their smartphone can help to supervise and encourage them to stick with their medication courses more diligently. The feedback to clinicians provides a channel that dramatically increases the amount of data that they can collect.

The Context For CareKit As Part Of Big Data

Healthcare providers and hospitals have begun to see the tremendous value in data. According to the book Big Data Revolution (Thomas and McSharry 2015), medical trials and research had previously suffered from a lack of meaningful data. Combinations of sensors, mobile devices, and social media enable telemedicine; a form of long distance communication and data collection at the core of CareKit is the embodiment of Big Data.

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Having data about subtle changes in patients before crises have occurred has promoted the use of pattern recognition as leading indicators of likely events, alerting doctors and nurses to respond. Alerts help medical staff to take prompt action; this can improve the chances to prevent crises, save lives, and provide research data for studies of new therapies and medications.

ResearchKit gave medical researchers a framework on which to build apps. CareKit extends that ability to provide a map that relates the information received from individual patients to the context of past outcomes; it also brings patients into the center of the ring, as participants in their treatment rather than passive subjects.

Modules Matched To Function For Users

CareKit consists of a set of modules that handle functions matched to the sensors and other capabilities of smartphones. Apple anticipated the use-cases that developers and users might want and used these factors to design the modules. The richly connected functionality of the modules means that apps can monitor patients for health and state while prompting interactions for manual inputs and to direct activities.

Big Data has already been at work in hospitals gathering information and monitoring patients. CareKit will enable healthcare developers to extend those capabilities significantly. Smartphones have a game-changing ability to collect data from diverse sensors and to put it into a structure that feeds into a network for analysis and gathering of insights. Because of this data-centric capability, smartphones equipped with CareKit based apps have the potential to revolutionize the medical field with a scope of data collection like none before them.

Combining Software And Hardware

The addition of wearable devices has factored yet another dimension into the equation. Wearables stay in physical contact with the patient for many hours of the day; they can transmit vast quantities of data and send alerts as high priority messages if changes in inputs indicate any predefined emergency event such as disturbances in heart rate, breathing difficulty, or any other measurable physiological output.

Medical wearables can be more specialized and capable than a general purpose wearable like the Apple Watch. Three early adopter development teams are offering prototype products OneDrop, Glow, and Iodine with apps for diabetes management, reproductive health, and depression medication management respectively.

CareKit apps developers can create iPhone apps and smart Band-Aid wearables that collect the most detailed and accurate medical data. Combining wearables and apps presents opportunities to develop software and hardware that can be far more insightful than the solution delivered by software alone.

Developing Apps For eHealth With CareKit

So, how do you adapt CareKit to your healthcare idea or the needs of your patients? You will need an experienced software developer team in-house or a custom app development agency as a collaborator that understands the potential of Big Data in healthcare and the development process within the CareKit framework.

Apple has a vested interest in the products that developers and medical professionals create, it is the advancement of the Apple brand and the iOS mobile operating system in competition with other platforms. However, it may prove only to be a determinant in the initial development platform, with successful applications being recreated on other platforms such as Android when they are ready to deploy in operational use.

CareKit is designed to enable developers to understand the needs of patients and to create applications that integrate directly with medical resources and networks; it is an exciting opportunity to develop applications for the iOS platform. CareKit leverages the new technologies to join patients with doctors and researchers, to make developing solutions easier and faster, testing and trials on a much broader scale, yielding much more reliable and significant results. All of the files and documentation for the framework are available to download from the organization’s repository on Github.

Work Cited:

Thomas, Rob, and Patrick McSharry. Big Data Revolution: What Farmers, Doctors, And Insurance Agents Teach Us About Discovering Big Data Patterns. Chichester: John Whiley & Sons Ltd, 2015.

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