Comments left online about nurses and standards of care could soon be picked up by the Care Quality Commission with new software.
The CQC is looking at setting up an IT system that will monitor social networking sites such as Facebook for complaints about care homes and healthcare providers.
The regulator is hoping to pilot the information gathering system next year. It is similar to the technology used by the security services to identify and trace terrorist extremists online.
The web crawling systems would produce a real time feed for the CQC of comments left with local media, blogs and social networking sites about the quality of nursing across the country.
CQC director of intelligence Richard Hamblin told Nursing Times the software might even be able to pick up patterns of internet searches on a topic that could alert it to a potential problem.
He said the work with developers Qinetiq was being appraised by the Department of Health now and, if approved, a pilot would start before April.
Mr Hamblin said the spur to consider a new system came from the challenge posed by the large number of social care facilities the CQC must regulate.
“There’s something about the nature of the care you get with social care which also makes it suited to this kind of information-gathering,” he said.
“With social care, we know a lot of the good information is going to be qualitative rather than quantitative because the units [of measurement] are so low.”
As of October this year, the CQC became responsible for assuring the quality of 24,700 separate social care facilities or services. Many of them are very small, and monitoring them would be difficult under the regulator’s current manual qualitative analysis model.
The technology will be designed to avoid campaign groups being able to spam the system to get their particular concern picked up.