Apple ResearchKit, HealthKit and CareKit, Health App – what does it all mean?

Author: Sarah Iqbal

The Apple Inc.© Health App, HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit — it is clear that Apple is set to conquer the healthcare market, or specifically the mHealth market. Since 2014, the Health app comes preloaded into the iPhone as part of iOS 8. HealthKit, also launched in 2014, sits underneath this Health app and allows developers to feed information to and from the app. In March 2015, Apple Inc. introduced the Apple ResearchKit, targeted to medical research. Following up a year later i.e. in April 2016, Apple announced the CareKit, to promote care management among patients.

All these different “Kits”¹ from Apple Inc. are meant for app developers, not so much the consumers/patients. Essentially, these “Kits” are various framework (similar to a template) that a developer uses to develop apps specifically for medical research/clinical trials. Once you have finalised your study, you will have to identify app developers, particularly ones that specialise in healthcare and medical research, who can help you build your clinical research app.


HealthKit is a framework designed to house healthcare and fitness apps, allowing them to work together and collate their data- all in one place. This framework sits underneath the Health app and allows developers to feed information into it, as well as to export appropriate data out from it.

Health App

Health is Apple's health-oriented app, which is pre-loaded into the iPhone when you purchase it (part of iOS 8). The Health App is a hub for all health-related devices or apps (which are integrated/connected to it) and a storage for all of these related data. The Health App pulls together fitness tracker stats, blood pressure readings, weight, body fat, calorie intake, existing medical conditions, sleep patterns and much more data!- all on one, easy to access dashboard.

It consolidates health data from iPhone, Apple Watch and third-party apps already in use. One can track health information from multiple sources, like compatible apps and fitness accessories. For example, if your Apple Watch monitors your heart rate and a third-party app (even those made by rival developers) tracks your blood sugar, you can see that data in your Health app (Note: Permission needs to be provided to allow apps to communicate with each other).


The ResearchKit is an open-source software framework² (which means that the code used to write a software is visible by the public and anyone can use it to build apps!) designed solely for medical research. The ResearchKit allows medical researchers to get an app develop quickly and eventually, capture meaningful and valuable data through apps developed from this framework.

With the app developed from the ResearchKit, researchers will essentially be able to ask (only) iPhone users anywhere in the world to download the apps and thus participate in medical studies. The central idea of the ResearchKit is to ease the recruitment in medical research/clinical trial, since this issue is one of the biggest challenges in clinical trials. (Note: Th goal is to transform the iPhone into a tool for medical research; nobody is obligated to participate).

ResearchKit has 3 modules. These are customisable modules to address the most common elements across the various types of a medical research or a clinical trial, as follows:




The survey module’s predefined user interface lets you quickly build surveys simply by specifying the questions and types of answers.

Active Task

Active tasks invite users to perform activities under partially controlled conditions using iPhone sensors to actively collect data.


Provides templates that you can customise to explain the details of your study and to obtain the participant’s consent

One can use these modules as they are (to develop a basic mHealth app) or build upon them for extended functionality. The figure below describes how information flows in the ResearchKit.

Apple ResearchKit (ARK)

Apple ResearchKit diagram

Note: All these different Apps will communicate with your preferred cloud server. Apple’s iCloud does not communicate with the Apps developed


CareKit is separate to ResearchKit. It is a new software framework (launched in April 2016) that allows developers to build medically focused apps that track and thus manage medical care. The apps built are meant to allow the patient to better understand and self-manage their medical conditions. This will help to track for example, effectiveness of a medicine taken. The central idea of the CareKit is patient engagement, allowing the healthcare industry to become more patient centric.

CareKit has 4 modules to build a “care” app, as follows:



Care Card

Displaying individual's care plan and 'action items', such as medicine or physical exercise

Symptom and Measurement Tracker

For monitoring symptoms and tracking objective measurements e.g. pain scales, blood pressure

Insight Dashboard

Combines the data from the first two modules to visualise trends and tell if treatments are working


Engage care teams and family members as partners in a patient’s health journey

Current apps built on the CareKit framework (available publicly): OneDrop, Glow Nurture, Glow Baby, Start. You can read about some of the CareKit apps currently being developed on the Apple's website.

You can build your app with the Apple ResearchKit framework and enhance the app developed with the CareKit framework. Once you have finalised the outcome of your health app that you want to build, you would then identify app developers, preferably one that is familiar and experienced in the health market that can help you build your research app. In which case, Biotaware can provide that for you. You need to work with a trusted and credible team who has extensive experience in developing apps specifically for medical research and healthcare or clinical trials, who can consult you on each technical bit that you would need and what scientific data that can and needs to be captured.

A lot of useful personal health information is currently sitting in a series of individual silos, blocked off from one another. This scenario reflects the current situation within many organisations in the healthcare industry. By providing an environment in which all of this data can sit and be readily accessed by third party apps and devices (with permission, of course), Apple Inc. ©, I believe, hopes to provide a wider view of your health, which ultimately benefits everyone.


[1] 'Kit' is an abbreviation of software developer kit, or SDK, which is what frameworks like this are called more generally

[2] Software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance

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