No announcement has been made on the shortlist, but Computer Weekly understands that the companies have been told informally of their selection.
If IBM wins the contract, it will be the company's biggest UK health project since the failure of the Regional Information Systems Plan at Wessex Regional Health Authority. The main suppliers of the Wessex system were IBM and Andersen (now Accenture).
Among Lockheed's biggest UK IT projects has been the development of new air traffic control systems for National Air Traffic Services.
BT already runs national NHS network NHSnet. The news that it has made the Department of Health's shortlist will come as a relief after the company's Syntegra division was, with CSC and SchlumbergerSema, dropped from the shortlist for Inland Revenue's Aspire contract.
Only EDS and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in alliance with Fujitsu are left in the running for Aspire, which is worth between £3bn and £4bn.
The Department of Health will draw up several shortlists for its national IT programme, the latest of which is for a national application service provider.
A confidential document issued by the Department of Health, entitled Output Based Specification, makes it clear that the required systems will be on a scale never attempted before anywhere in the world.
The main application, to provide support for the Integrated Care Records Service, will need to "scale seamlessly to hold the data associated with an estimated 55 million people", said the specification.