case study

Apple CareKit, ResearchKit and HealthKit

Creating shared infrastructure to enable creative approaches to research and care

Apple’s iOS, the operating system underlying the iPhone and iPad started as a closed system designed primarily for Apple’s purposes. Unlike the platforms of the 90s and early 2000s, which typically optimized for internal stakeholders of a large company, Apple started towards a newer model: a multi-sided platform. We'll take a look at how it creates new opportunities for patient care, health insights and research as a way to understand how platforms bridge organizations large and small to serve end users.

A multi-sided platform (or MSP) like Apple's uses digital technology to create new outward-facing opportunities for all parties involved. In fact, ongoing relationships are one of the main hallmarks of a successful MSP, where the more users participate, the more value they get.

Read more about MSPs:

For the company that develops and hosts an MSP, this may mean building closer relationships with customers and earning access to more data about them, as well as enjoying the shared revenue created by partners. For partners, value comes in the form of being able to create, distribute, and profit from products the develop on the MSP’s marketplace. And users receive value from the engaging with a constantly expanding set of apps on the platform, as well as by allowing data about themselves to be fed back to them in useful ways, such as recommendations.

The Introduction of the Apple Watch

In 2015, Apple released their Apple Watch—a combination fitness sensor and wrist-sized smart device which linked to an iPhone. In the beginning, its features seemed primarily focused on delivering notifications from the smartphone to the user’s wrist, serving as a sort of bluetooth speakerphone, and delivering basic health data back to a user's phone.

Despite a seemingly small feature set, by 2017—only two years after introduction—Apple was the number one watchmaker in the world.

A 2017 video showing the many ways users have benefitted from the watch describes the ‘nudges’ the device gives about health and activity, the medical and fitness implications, and even a user who used the device to dial emergency services after a car accident threw his phone out of reach.

Commercially, the Apple Watch and its competitors Android Wear devices, demonstrate that once a critical mass of users adopts a ‘swiss army knife’ smart device open to third party development, adoption spikes well beyond that of more proprietary devices (like indirect competitors Fitbit and Jawbone UP). And its standardized platform is now even enabling third parties to create regulator-approved medical devices using Apple Watch, like the KardiaBand, which provides high-quality EKG readings without a doctor’s visit.

The opportunity for research: ResearchKit

Health information had another potential use. Jawbone’s activity tracker and associated caffeine- and sleep-tracking apps were suddenly the biggest longitudinal study of caffeine’s interactions with sleep. The precision of smartphone-centric body trackers and the increasing willingness of end users to share raw data about themselves in exchange for meaningful insight meant that medical researchers who had long struggled to fund research of broad groups of people could also now, potentially, take advantage of the economies of scale afforded by Apple’s digital platform and the users and other platforms connected to it.

To aid ethical, efficient and accurate research using iPhones and wearables, Apple introduced ResearchKit in 2015 with the hope of responsibly opening up more diverse populations for research. The platform standardized reporting of both quantitative data (like heart rate) and qualitative data, like patient stories or feedback. Several years later, the platform has been a limited success, validating the possibilities of digital platforms—but also reinforcing that there are few shortcuts to good researcher engagement with users.

This brief video from Apple about ResearchKit and CareKit shows how research can change the global conversation about health and research.

A new way to empower patients and caregivers: CareKit

Roughly a year after release of the ResearchKit API and program, Apple introduced CareKit, a system which allows caregivers and patients to interact around a shared infrastructure. Apple cited users’ feedback that some of the most helpful components of ResearchKit was seeing insights into their health and communicating regularly with a research or clinician. Apple and its research partners noted that adherence to a care plan was one of the most difficult elements of care, especially after complex procedures like a surgery. CareKit and ResearchKit continue to expand as new use cases become apparent.

This excerpt (watch from ~1:50 for a few moments) from Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ conference shows how Apple introduced the use case for CareKit to software developers, sharing some of the problems it can solve and integrating guidance around how best to serve end users. 

CareKit contains four key elements that retrieve and add information from a central store of data:

Care Card:  Users see a simple, consistent presentation of their care plan across multiple conditions and providers

Care Card: Users see a simple, consistent presentation of their care plan across multiple conditions and providers

Symptoms & Measurements Tracker:  Users can log objective and subjective data about their conditions and experience

Symptoms & Measurements Tracker: Users can log objective and subjective data about their conditions and experience

Insights:  Users can immediately see their own progress on care and the resultant symptoms in one place

Insights: Users can immediately see their own progress on care and the resultant symptoms in one place

Connect:  Users have a simple and secure portal to communicate not just with professionals, but caretakers and loved ones

Connect: Users have a simple and secure portal to communicate not just with professionals, but caretakers and loved ones


The combination of community, marketplace, infrastructure and data into a multi-sided platform like Apple’s means that developers—from small players with unique app ideas to big players wishing to quickly implement new, ‘digital’ offerings—can focus on what they do best and avoid the costly and frustrating process of developing their technology from scratch. Companies can look for software and hardware development kits like HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit as ‘indicator species’ of a groundswell of new opportunity to create digital offerings without having to carry all of the risk of such innovations themselves. End users will do the same—when they see investment from major firms like Apple’s, they can be assured there is a decent chance that the device or platform they buy into will continue to get more and more useful.

PillPack & Pharmacy OS

Over 40 million Americans take 5+ prescription meds a day—but only 50% of Americans take them as prescribed. 

According to the founders of PillPack, patients who fall into the category of having multiple prescriptions face the challenge of unsynchronized renewals, inadequate oversight from pharmacists and challenges staying on top of insurance billing and the number of available refills. Additionally, there is the obvious problem of remembering which medications are to be taken at a specific time and tracking if they have actually been taken. And many patients also have caregivers who need to be included in medication management. 


The PillPack

PillPack attempts to solve the challenges of multiple prescriptions by streamlining the front end of the pharmacy experience. The group medications into the simplest schedule possible in easy-open packs for patients (and their caregivers). Because the PillPack makes it easy to know if medications for a schedule have been opened, the challenge of sharing caretaking duties for a patient is also made easier—it’s not as necessary to have pen & paper or online tools for tracking adherence to a prescription schedule.



Additionally, an online portal for the patient and/or their caregivers allows for easy administration without requiring a trip to a pharmacy or lengthy phone calls.


PillPack is made possible by a platform the company calls Pharmacy OS. Pharmacy OS coordinates between four key stakeholders: 

  • Payers, who authorize payments and who need to be checked with to verify authorization
  • Doctors, whose prescriptions need to be captured, and who renew prescriptions
  • Customers (Patients and/or their Caregivers), who need to be supported in understanding their medications’ schedules and interactions, and who update the pharmacy about any changes
  • The Pharmacy (in this case, PillPack), who optimizes the purchasing and dispensing of medication

PillPack is designed to support both patients and their caregivers—allowing them to better manage schedules for medication, link accounts for updates, and reduce the worry related to complex medication schedules.

Pharmacy OS is the system PillPack operates on, coordinating caregivers, patients, payers, pharmacists and doctors.

MSP PillPack and Pharmacy OS.png

Together, PillPack and PharmacyOS have the potential to disrupt the pharmacy industry by optimizing the experience of the large portion of Americans who need to manage multiple prescriptions. It solves several parts of the challenge of adhering to complex schedules from the patient & caretakers’ perspective, reduces the risk of over-spending, renewal surprises or unexpected expenses for patients and insurance payers, and minimizes challenges requiring the last-minute contact of the prescribing physician.


Personalized medicine with both high-touch care and technology enablement

Forward is a startup based in California combining the ‘best technologies’ for health with personalized care. Their approach promises to blend advanced diagnostics, including genomic testing, with more face-time with doctors and care providers. Additionally, patients can co-create health goals with their provider and receive personalized care through telemedicine (in this case, chat-based messaging) to attend to health concerns early while minimizing unnecessary office visits.


A Different Look and Feel


Forward’s offices look and feel different, too. Visitors could easily pass by an important innovation which sits innocuously built into the wall—some airport water bottle refilling machines are fancier. Behind the simple facade lies a clever combination of existing diagnostic technologies in a ‘one stop’ place for basic diagnostics. Once in the doctor’s office itself, patients can expect to be discussing their health situation on very large screens with casually-dressed professionals. Overall, the effect is far more Star Trek sickbay than one-stop family care clinic.  

Getting what you pay for

The VC-backed firm has a difficult path ahead. It will have to convince patients to spend a significant amount of money each month on a subscription model of $149/month, in addition to costs per visit (and for diagnostics). And it will likely have to convince payers to cover somewhat unusual diagnostics (like genomic testing). But if it can, the promise of highly personalized care backed by solid patient data is certainly worth the effort—and could scale as technology costs lower and larger collective purchasers bring their business.

MSP Forward.png


PatientsLikeMe offers a new approach to viewing your own health information, called DigitalMe. DigitalMe combines Biological, Experiential, Medical & Environmental data to create a profile of an individual, which is then aggregated with other ‘little data’ about other individuals into ‘big data’ sets. By contributing data, patients hope to receive meaningful feedback on opportunities to better treat or manage their own condition at the same time as helping others. 

Based on your condition, what we’re seeing across conditions, and what we’re learning from the data – we’ll choose from the most advanced scientific resources available today like machine learning to examine your RNA and DNA, your proteins, antibodies, microbiome and metabolites. We’re stretching the limits of breakthrough technologies to find answers.

PatientsLikeMe provides value in a number of different ways and makes money via their partnership with companies who aim to sell products to patients. Operating in a not-just-for-profit model, with particular emphasis of use of ‘data for good,’ they attract people around a shared purpose of better health care. PatientsLikeMe convenes a couple of key groups:


Share, find and learn: patients can share about their experiences, as well as submit quantified medical data (like health records), biological data (like blood samples) and data about their environment. Currently, PatientsLikeMe says they have over 600,000 members reporting on 2,800+ conditions. Patients have the opportunity to interact with others with the same condition  to directly share experiences and data, and can also seek research/clinical trials.


PatientsLikeMe partners with “companies that are developing or selling products to patients.” According to the company, these products may include drugs, devices, equipment, insurance, and medical services, with the aim to improve health care. One such partnership was with, where they cross-referenced their data  with Walgreens’ drug data.


Clinicians are perhaps less-represented on PatientsLikeMe outside of the context of research. There may be opportunities to further that integration for care programs, much in the same way that Apple’s CareKit clinician-liaison infrastructure emerged from ResearchKit, their research-liaison framework.


Researchers can apply for access to data about their members of PatientsLikeMe, and can partner with PatientsLikeMe to conduct tests, as they did in a trial with The Duke ALS Clinic.

It is not entirely clear from reviewing PatientsLikeMe’s materials is the degree of integration they offer to third parties. For example, is it possible to easily integrate their data with Apple's HealthKit and CareKit, from the patient and medical professional’s perspectives? Can research projects integrate with Flatiron Health’s approach to large-patient-base research projects, or Apple’s ResearchKit framework for opt-in medical studies? The company indicates that it is ‘in trials’ of integrations with wearable technology devices (presumably like Apple Watch, Fitbit or Android Wear devices). They also indicate pilots of electronic medical record integration.

MSP PatientsLikeMe.png

Company Milestones

(from PatientsLikeMe)


  • More than 600,000 people use PatientsLikeMe to find new options for treatments, connect with others, and take action to improve their outcomes.
  • PatientsLikeMe named one of Fast Company's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Biotech.

  • PatientsLikeMe partners with Jun Wang's iCarbonX to apply next generation biological measures and machine learning, and accelerate a deeper understanding of the basis of human health and disease.


  • PatientsLikeMe expands the scope of patient-generated information it offers through to help more people better understand how certain prescription medications may affect them.
  • In the first-ever ALS virtual trial, PatientsLikeMe and The Duke ALS Clinic evaluate the potential of Lunasin, a soy peptide, to reverse symptoms in ALS patients.

  • PatientsLikeMe announces a collaboration with M2Gen to give patients and researchers a more complete picture of patients’ experiences with cancer treatments and to shed new light on the factors that may affect outcomes and quality of life.

Research Datasets

Datasets at PatientsLikeMe tend to be focused on complex conditions and include many factors. This can be a boon to researchers looking to attend to environmental and social factors affecting research participants, but can also be challenging to ‘control’ for in a study.


PatientsLikeMe stands to bridge the genomic testing science of groups like HudsonAlpha with the community elements of CaringBridge. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. The angle PatientsLikeMe takes is more akin to sickness care—their videos and on-site materials focus on people grappling with significant conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia or massive depressive episodes. However, since many people may not find a need for this service until a serious condition enters their life or that of a loved one, it makes sense as a starting point. The promise of the platform is huge, though—and when combined with other platforms, it could provide exponential value to patients, clinicians, researchers and medical organizations.  


Okun S, Goodwin K. Building a learning health community: By the people, for the people. Learn Health Sys. 2017;1:e10028.

5 Big Auto Companies Shifting the Paradigm of Ownership with Car Sharing Services

5 Big Auto Companies Shifting the Paradigm of Ownership with Car Sharing Services

Automakers are making their own forays into the digital space. Once the domain of third parties, carmakers themselves are getting into the game. Here we briefly look at the strategic partnerships, pilots and internally-led innovations carmakers are working on, as well as new business models for car sharing (wherein multiple parties own one car, or a corporation owns a car and rents it out fractionally, permitting use by a larger group of people). 

7 Companies that are Disrupting the Future of the Auto Industry

7 Companies that are Disrupting the Future of the Auto Industry

Digital Disruptors: How Connected Cars Are Creating Pull for Innovation


What it is: A peer-to-peer ‘social insurance’ company based in Germany that invites customers to opt in to a group policy which is shared between friends.

How it works:  Each group policy includes a pool of money, fed by a percentage of each member’s premium, which can be used to pay out small claims. If, at the end of the year, there is money left in the pool, everyone gets their share of the remainder back.

Why it's disruptive: Part of the premiums still go to regular insurance, but the idea of money back each year underwritten by the desire to do right by your friends is an unconventional and attractive value add—especially for people who see in their cultural identity collaboration, community and “pay only for what you use”. In 2013, roughly 90 percent of users who took advantage of the peer-to-peer-insurance model were repaid contributions.  

Apple's Reintermediation of Smartphones: The iPhone as a Service

Apple's Reintermediation of Smartphones: The iPhone as a Service

With Apple's recent announcement of their direct sales of not just smartphones, but phone & plan bundles, mainstream customers are about to experience a big, visible change in mobile business models. While lots of articles do a great job comparing Apple's new iPhone Upgrade Plan to similar carrier-specific offerings, there's another issue at hand behind the scenes as Apple closes the loop of the iPhone experience.

The Rural Broadband Association: Access at the Edge

The Rural Broadband Association: Access at the Edge

Work in the realm of cyborg anthropology means listening. Rural broadband access is a vital part of lessening the 'digital divide' between the know and known-nots—people who have access to the wealth of information, especially multimedia, on the web. 

Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Software used to be sold as any other product: a box on a shelf (or a download equivalent) and either basic post-purchase support or paid support contracts. Users would have to wait for a new release to get new features.

Feedback Loops, Empathy and the Importance of Outrospection

Feedback Loops, Empathy and the Importance of Outrospection

As the world shifts towards more-networked organizations, the creation of feedback loops is more important than ever. An organization's capacity for empathy determines whether or not its products and services will actually serve the people it is trying to earn money from, and its awareness of what motivates its competitors, regulators and even its own staff will determine its ability to form important strategic alliances, form public-private partnerships and retain its workforce. 

Intellectual Property, DNA and Innovation Viruses: Julie Sammons

Intellectual Property, DNA and Innovation Viruses: Julie Sammons

I keep coming back to the question of "how does nature handle IP?" The closest I can think of is our creation of APIs. Organisms don't walk around with their genetic code sort of displayed for everyone to see, what makes them unique. But there is massive and constant interaction between organisms and their environment, and exchange of information. I think APIs, in a way, are sort of an interesting way of thinking about that. You display enough information about your internal code that others can really interact [with it], and build upon it effectively, without giving away the whole farm—which probably wouldn't even be useful. The other organisms don't even need to know your entire code. That piece is interesting to me.  

Kits as an Innovation Enabler (and an Indicator Species)

Kits as an Innovation Enabler (and an Indicator Species)

The creation of a kit—literally, as in the Maker world, or figuratively, as in the software world’s APIs and application frameworks—serves as a magnet to whatever industry offers it. Make: magazine’s Project Editor, Keith Sammons, offers why: 

First Steps to Doctrine: the Example of Moore's Cloud Business Principles

First Steps to Doctrine: the Example of Moore's Cloud Business Principles

For an example of a fluid progression from values to high-level beginnings of doctrine, consider this published set of business principles from Moore's Cloud, a "smart light" startup based in Australia. Their founder, Mark Pesce, explained that the intent of these principles was both internal and external, being used both to inform internal daily decision-making and to filter (attract or repel) investors by explicitly stating the company's commitment to open ecosystems and transparent business practice. By 'downloading' individuals decision-making guides from key leaders in the organization and then 'uploading' them to the business's guiding source code, Moore's Cloud has reduced huge amounts of unnecessary

Social Enterprise as a Listening Tool

Social Enterprise as a Listening Tool

And what I would say is that there is a unique opportunity right now for companies to, as a first step, to start to embrace the social enterprise—because what that does is that gets the value of the human component quantified, and from there we start to make decisions, we start to put in structures that are not 100% based on just what the profit and revenue growth are. Those things become an end, an outcome.