Apple's CareKit opens new door for pharma to develop apps, but will it walk through?

Apple just made pharma's move beyond the pill a little easier. With the announcement of CareKit last week, Apple promises easy-to-use software to create integrated iPhone apps that can more easily track and manage health conditions. However, the question is, will pharma take them up on the offer?

"The short answer is yes, CareKit is absolutely an easier way for pharma to get into this business, but the longer answer is that I'm not sure they can do it culturally," said Ritesh Patel, EVP and chief digital officer at Ogilvy CommonHealth. "At the senior-most level, I don't think executives have really understood the words 'beyond the pill' and 'patient centricity.'"

Until pharma embraces those concepts from the top down and companywide, there will only be "pockets of innovation," he added.

Apple's ResearchKit

Several drugmakers readily embraced ResearchKit, Apple's ($AAPL) software framework released last year that was aimed at enrolling patients more easily into trials. CareKit goes beyond trials to patient lifestyle and tracking--and that's where some companies may get hung up.

Patel predicted the "usual suspect" line-up of innovative pharma companies will embrace CareKit quickly, and he listed Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech unit and Bayer as some of those companies. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Purdue Pharma were among the early adopters of ResearchKit for clinical trials.

An Apple spokeswoman said so far only 5 developers--none of them pharma--have access to CareKit, but added that it will be widely available to everyone in April. Apple's press release reported new features in the software that include the ability to track health plans in the case of medications or physical therapy routines for example; a symptom tracker that can monitor temperature and measure pain and fatigue; and a personal insight dashboard that can track how treatments are working.

The other widely discussed and debated feature of CareKit is its connectivity. CareKit moves beyond the personal tracking born in Apple's initial Health app--with its ability to log steps and sleep patterns of one individual--to connecting doctors and caregivers to that trove of information.

Jeff Dachis, CEO and founder of diabetes management app One Drop, which was one of those first 5 apps selected for CareKit's debut, said his team is working to integrate CareKit functionality into the existing app. One Drop was independently developed by Dachis, and he said they have not talked to any pharma companies about integrating or offering the app as a complement to diabetes meds.

"The new CareKit modules will help us deliver even better solutions for our users to set goals, track how well they are doing against those goals, and provide unique insights," Dachis wrote via email.

Patel noted that pharma, which has been partnering with smaller tech companies on getting up to speed digitally, could get a nudge toward CareKit from those smaller companies. Ad agencies might suggest CareKit apps to pharma clients as lifestyle aids and marketing tools, too.

He called CareKit "the next evolution of healthcare, which is not only your electronic health record connection but also allows you to do other things that are part of your life, alert a caregiver or allow you to track, record and monitor (conditions)." He added, "It's an evolution of what Apple's trying to do, which is get into the healthcare business in a big way."

- read the Apple news release