Patients' comments on social media about poor care could be used by the NHS watchdog to investigate hospitals, the new head of the health service regulator has said.
Peter Wyman, chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said inspectors would take complaints made on sites including Facebook into account as part of an overhaul of the way inspections are carried out.
The regulator needed to make use of "early intelligence" to identify potential problems and intervene quicker, he said.
He told the Daily Telegraph: "We live in a world of big data, we need to be able to capture it and analyse it intelligently. A lot of hospitals are using social media in different ways. There is great potential there to capture people's views.
"It could be what people are saying on Facebook, it could be formal patient complaints, it could be what Healthwatch (local patient groups) are saying.
"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, rather than waiting for something awful to happen to mothers and babies."
The CQC has launched a public consultation over changes to its inspections, which comes as the body faces funding cuts.
Mr Wyman took charge of the regulator just weeks after MPs issued a stark warning that the CQC was not doing an "effective" job six years after it was set up and demanded rapid improvements.
In a report in December, the public accounts committee said the commission was "behind on its inspection programme and is not, therefore, fulfilling its duty to be sighted on risks to the quality and safety of health and adult social care services".
Mr Wyman, a former hospital trust chairman and accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the new strategy would not "rip up" the current inspection regime but would "refine" it.
CQC inspections see hospitals, care homes and GPs awarded Ofsted-style ratings.