Update 5th of June, 2016: In migrating this post over to Github pages I noted that the link to the Symptom Checker page was returning a 403. I raised this with the New Zealand Ministry of Health. It turns out Symptom Checker was developed based on an Australian app (Medibank Symptom Checker) and that the application was no longer available after the MOH contract with Medibank concluded. The good news is that a new web based system is being developed by the company that took over from Medibank, Healthcare Medical.

In New Zealand we have a government run health service known as Health Line. The idea behind Health Line is that if you’re feeling a bit crook you give them a call and you’ll then be guided through a list of questions by a registered nurse. Based on your symptoms they’ll then advise you whether you should treat yourself at home or seek medical advise. It’s a useful service and benefits both you and the public health service by reducing unnecessary doctors visits and hospital admissions.

Recently Health Line released a mobile supplement of the service known as Symptom Checker (dead link - see update). The app allows the user to search for their ailment, for example “knee injury” or use a body map to drill down to conditions affecting the selected body part. The idea of the app strikes me as being a bit gimmicky and the Ministry of Health even state that it is not a substitute for proper medical advice - say from a doctor or a registered nurse. Given that you can speak to a registered nurse by actually calling Health Line it’s not difficult to question why there was a need for this app in the first place; but given that they still went ahead with it the real kicker is that it’s offered only on iOS devices.

Lets first get the obvious out of the way - iOS isn’t the only platform in town. It’s a big platform but how big depends on where you get your statistics from. Android is popular in New Zealand and there’s a small (but growing) market for Windows Phone devices. There are also many using Symbian based devices and various other feature phone variants. If the Ministry of Health thought this would genuinely help people shouldn’t they as a government department be obliged to make it available to the widest audience possible?

There is a way of making such applications available to anyone (or at least anyone with access to a public library) and that is through the web. Looking at what is offered by Symptom Checker there doesn’t appear to be much if any functionality provided by the app that couldn’t be delivered through a the MoH’s own website. And likely too for a better price.