Independent healthcare regulator the Care Quality Commission (CGC) will trawl Facebook to discover which hospitals are not performing well.
As part of an overhaul of hospital inspection processes, the chair of the CQC Peter Wyman said that monitoring negative comments by patients in Facebook posts could help highlight warning signs of substandard care.
While the CQC still intends to study official data, Wyman said that taking anecdotal evidence on social media into account could allow inspectors to make better use of "early intelligence".
"There are an awful lot of ways to capture what people are saying – it could be what people are saying on Facebook, it could be formal patient complaints, it could be what Healthwatch are saying," Wyman told The Telegraph.
The strategy would place a greater importance on "asking questions" about what patients were saying about quality of care rather than waiting for something bad to happen before intervening.
"If you have got a maternity unit which was good when we last inspected and suddenly you get staff and the public saying they aren't happy then that is the time to be asking questions," he said.
"A lot of hospitals are using social media in different ways. There is great potential there to capture people's views."
The consultation into the overhaul of regulation systems is expected to see the CQC carry out fewer physical inspections of hospitals as its budget it cut by 25%.
"I think inspections are good and important and they are not going to go away, but on the other hand they are very expensive," Wyman said, favouring an approach that would "refine" methods.
Reduced inspection teams and frequency of work carried out will "help us to target our resources where risk is greatest and improvement is needed," Wyman added.
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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