Apple’s CareKit and the AI future of medical care

Will your robot doctor be Apple or Android?

Apple’s focus on personal health through connected devices ramps up a little more today with the release of the first four third party apps to integrate its newly announced open source CareKit technologies.

What is CareKit?

CareKit provides a series of Apple-designed modules healthcare organizations can weave into their apps. The four available modules include:

  • Activity scorecard (checks if required medicine or exercise are taken)
  • Symptom tracker
  • Progress monitoring
  • Share function

CareKit also integrates with hospital records systems like Epic and Cerner.

Apple COO Jeff Williams explained the importance of CareKit when he announced the framework in March:

"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."

These are the first four CareKit apps

The first four apps created with the framework have been made available, and they help illustrate the potential for connected health and self care support.

The free One Drop diabetes management app logs glucose, food, medication and activity. It will sync data from Bluetooth-enabled handheld blood glucose monitors, and provides schedules, insights and medication reminders. It also supports Apple Watch that helps the software build a good picture of patient health.

Glow Nurture is a pregnancy tracker mothers can use to log their progress and to access information about what to expect during pregnancy. Glow Baby (from the same developer) is a solution that tracks the critical first year of your child’s life, providing personalized tips.

Iodine Inc’s Start app is an app for those suffering from depression. It provides a series of tests and tracking tools that patients can use in order to monitor how effective prescribed medication is being in treatment of their condition. That’s incredibly useful given that not every anti-depressant medication works successfully with every patient, so identifying those that do work fast should help build successful treatment plans.

Apps for epilepsy, post surgical care and management of chronic conditions are also in development from various reputable providers.

In sickness and iHealth

These apps help illustrate the sorts of things CareKit can do, and it’s certain these solutions will make a huge difference in access and provision of future medical care.

Imagine how big anonymized data analysis of consistently collected patient health data could inform physicians not just about an individual patient’s condition, but of any similar conditions in the local, national or international area. Less well-identified ailments may become easier to spot and disease outbreaks easier to control.

The impact of connected solutions on health and medicine will be staggering. Apps and add-ons used with connected devices such as Apple Watch or iPhone will empower users with the kind of immediate information and analysis they need to improve their own self-care, but the real impact lies far beyond this.

  • Aldebaran has been developing robots to assist elderly, disabled or ill patients since 2009.
  • Babylon Health is building an AI system that provides first line medical care to patients.
  • The daVinci Surgical System of robotic surgeons is already being adopted by hospitals worldwide to treat some conditions.

Challenges remain

A current challenge is the lack of an evidence base from which to assess which apps are good and which are not, as Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics told IEEE Spectrum:

“For all the enthusiasm, we don’t want to overhype where things are…There are still legitimate concerns by physicians about the evidence for which apps are good.”

What we do now have is a starting point from which to build such evidence. Promising a peer-reviewed study in future, One Drop CEO, Jeff Dachis says the data he has so far shows the app makes users more engaged in their health care and more likely to stick to medication schedules

The allure remains strong. Solutions like Apple’s CareKit and ResearchKit will inevitably save lives and empower better access to medical care by some currently unable to access or afford such support. Hopefully.

On privacy

The caveat to all this technological singularity is that medical solutions like these can be seen as a stalking horse from which to manufacture consent and acceptance of all manner of connected devices, from smart cities to smart cars and beyond. And for each of these implementations the notion of digital privacy remains unresolved and undefined, despite Apple’s attempt to protect it.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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