Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:
"So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch. I want to make using apps to track blood pressure, to find the nearest source of support when you need it and to get practical help in staying healthy the norm."
The idea is to make it easy and convenient for patients to access information and services from the NHS, manage conditions more effectively, and improve their lifestyle choices.
NHS Choices, the government website for information on health and local services received 14.5 million visitors last month. Many of these got the information and advice they needed without having to go and see their GP. This saves costs.
A study published in April last year showed that 27% of people who visited NHS Choices went to their GP less often because of the help they got from the website.
The government sees smartphone apps as another way people can access information and advice they need and want to manage their health.
The announcement follows a call by the Department of Health to find the best new and existing smartphone apps for health care management: there were over 500 entries and over 12,600 votes and comments.
Among the most popular app suggestions are those that help people:
- Manage diabetes and other long-term conditions,
- Find practical advice on how to keep fit and follow a healthy diet,
- Deal with post traumatic stress,
- Locate NHS services on a map, and
- Track their blood pressure and similar measures.
The app is already popular in hospitals like Great Ormond Street, UCL and Torbay, and is proving successful with GPs and community nurses across the country who are responding to patients' invitations.
The creators of Patients Know Best say control of of own's own health record is "a human right" and it is vital that patients control access to their health information rather than be tied to their GP's system. Otherwise all they can do is read the GP record, they can't join it up with records from hospitals and other clinics, and this will get worse as each centre develops its own website. They also can't control who uses the records.
It addresses needs such as those of this diabetes patient who wrote to the Guardian's People Panel for readers with chronic illness on 26 August 2011:
"I want a single secure place, online, to store all my information about my condition ... The lack of co-ordination is staggering. I want to control my information and I can't. The current system makes my life harder, not easier ... give me access to my data in usable electronic form and I will use it better than the NHS".
Another popular app, that incorporates emerging FoodWiz software, is the Diabetes App. This will give people with diabetes reminders to check blood sugar levels and when to take medication. It will help them monitor, record and track blood sugar measures and send them to their surgery or clinic.
The FoodWiz software helps you control your diet. For instance, it contains the food and drink databases of the major supermarkets, over 100,000 items, with 100 new ones added every day. This is the first time the supermarkets have shared this information. When you goes shopping with this app, you just picks the food item off the shelf, zap the barcode into the phone, and immediately the phone gives the calorie, carb and fat content of the item without you having to read the small print.
There is also a facility to keep a food diary, adding calories and carbs as they are consumed, with an alert system that tells you when you reach 1,000 1,500 and 2,000 calories in a day. Another option suggests exercises and lifestyle changes to help with weight loss.
At an event showcasing the best new and existing ideas for health smartphone apps, Lansley said:
"Information about your health is a service - just like the GP surgeries, Walk-in Centres and hospitals that millions of people access every week. With more information at their fingertips, patients can truly be in the driving seat."
"Innovation and technology can revolutionise the health service, and we are looking at how the NHS can use these apps for the benefit of patients, including how GPs could offer them for free," he added.
This Spring, the government is publishing its Information Strategy, that will reveal how all this will work.
For further information on the apps competition, ideas, votes and comments, visit the DOH's Your Ideas website.