GPs could soon be directing their patients to free or cheap apps, to allow them to monitor and manage their health more effectively, Ministers have said.

A recent competition organised by the Department of Health to find the best new ideas and existing smartphone apps that help people and their doctors manage their care better received nearly 500 entries and over 12,600 votes and comments. The initiative identified apps "with potentially huge value" to patients and the NHS which promote better management of long-term conditions or healthy living, and developing smartphone apps is the next step in giving patients the information and advice they need and want to stay healthy, says the Department.

The competition found that the most popular app ideas were those to: - help manage long-term conditions like diabetes; - help people deal with post-traumatic stress; - track and monitor measures such as blood pressure; - help people find NHS services on a map and - get practical information about keeping fit and eating healthily.

Popular apps include Patients Know Best, where each patient obtains all their records from all their clinicians, and controls who gets access to them. The app means that patients can have online consultations with any member of their clinical team, receive automated explanations of their results, and work with clinicians for a personalised care plan. Patients Know Best has already proved successful with hospitals including Great Ormond Street, University College London and Torbay, as well as with GPs and community nurses.

Another app, for diabetes, will give people with the condition reminders on checking blood sugar levels and taking medication. The Diabetes App will allow them to monitor, record and track blood sugar information, which can then be sent electronically to their surgery or clinic. The app also uses emerging FoodWiz software to help people control their diabetes or even help those at risk of diabetes to prevent it. 

"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," said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

"Innovation and technology can revolutionise the health service, and we are looking at how the NHS can use these apps for the benefits of patients, including how GPs could offer them for free," he said.

"We live in a world where digital technology is an essential part of people's lives," notes Martha Lane-Fox, UK Digital Champion and entrepreneur, who has worked with the Department on the initiative. "Using apps that locate local health services or apps that help you to get fit can dramatically improve your daily life," she said.

Details of how the initiative would work are expected to appear in the Information Strategy, due to be published this spring, which the government says it is developing "to ensure that patients and clinicians have access to meaningful and up-to-date information. This will give patients more choice, control and responsibility over their health, and clinicians the information to manage how they deliver local services."

• The Department's call for ideas, suggestions and votes for apps was divided into five themes: - personalisation and choice of care and support; - better health and care outcomes; - autonomy and accountability; - improving public health; and - improving long-term care and support.