Keen to get a foot in the door in the App Economy, but not sure where to start?

"Do what you love," is a good start. For many people, what better than to help make life better for your fellow humans first and perhaps make money out of it too?

Focusing on people and their needs was the common thread among the developers I met in Sydney last week, where they showed off their healthcare apps for Apple's i-devices.

One nice thing about the event was that three of the five development organisations paraded by Apple in Sydney have Kiwi roots.


Dr Raghav Murali-Ganesh from the University of Auckland, who co-founded the CancerAid cancer management app, Hamish MacDonald who is behind The Diary which gives patients (and their carers) a platform that provides the information they need on their smartphones.

Those two apps look excellent, very comprehensive and useful, but my favourite one was James Stewart and Sim Penzo's give up smoking support app.

Stewart's a Christchurch lad who confessed to having been a dreadful cigarette fiend and die-hard nicotinist.

He took that severe addiction and turned it into a support service and business for others who want to quit. and its developers are probably on a Big Tobacco hit list now, but it's a nice idea that can be extended to other addictive drugs as well. Stewart and Penzo are looking at applying the app to methamphetamine users for instance.

I confess to being dubious about healthcare apps on smartphones and tablets, especially on Apple's expensive ones, because of that whole "Digital Divide" thing: the people who need the information and support the apps can provide the most, can't afford them.

With cheaper yet powerful smartphones though, which are almost a basic human need and right now, and ubiquitous wireless data, that divide might just be closing meaning healthcare apps can reach people with low incomes. Also, the apps come in Android versions too, so there's more device choice.

There's some real thought gone into the apps as well to make them work for everyone.

Professors Isabelle and Timothy Skinner from Darwin University recognised that while there's a wealth of information out there for type 2 diabetes patients, it can be overwhelming to find and wade through it all, especially if you're unwell.


Their emojifitDiabetes app communicates type 2 diabetes management with... custom emojis. It's a brilliant concept that works for everyone, like people in indigenous communities whose English literacy might be low.

Focusing on people and their needs is the common thread among app developers. Photo / 123RF
Focusing on people and their needs is the common thread among app developers. Photo / 123RF

Communicating medical information accurately, quickly and where you need it is at the root of HeadCheck, designed by Curve Tomorrow, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the Royal Children's Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

Headcheck is for those nasty situations on the footy field when your kid has had a knock on the head, to help parents and coaches recognise signs and symptoms of concussion.

Again, it's a great idea: there are bound to be people at the field with a smartphone who can start up HeadCheck and go through the concussion symptoms checklist, and if needed, press the button to call an ambulance.

Finding that slip of paper with the hard to understand concussion symptoms while you're tending to a child who's laid low and confused, that's just not going to work as well.

Another huge issue for healthcare apps is of course privacy.

Your health information is the very definition of "private, sensitive, personal data". The thought of that Murali-Ghanesh said that's the first thing anyone asks before you're even allowed to present anything - how do you protect your users' privacy, especially in the United States which has very strict rules for that.

The Diary's MacDonald concurred, and said Apple's hard core stance on privacy was a big advantage here. While it's easy to collect data with iOS, unless patients want to share it, it's difficult to prise out of devices as the FBI discovered last year.

Speaking to the healthcare app developers - and they were a mixed bunch, young and old, academics and coders - was inspiring. While taking the soul-destroying aspect out of business activities such as admin and accounting is worthwhile, if I was starting out with apps, healthcare would make it that much more meaningful and drive me to continue.