They will use restaurant-style ratings in an online survey, and will be able to report on aspects of hospital service such as waiting times for operations, bedside manner and the quality of food. Patients and the public will also be able to assess their own health risks on the site.
Announcing the website on Tuesday, health secretary Patricia Hewitt told a seminar at the Social Market Foundation: 'This new, super website takes patient choice one more step forward and will develop and expand over time to provide a comprehensive resource for patients.'
An invitation to tender to run the website was issued on Monday.
The site, due to be launched this summer, will first allow patients to rate hospitals, and later doctors' surgeries. Patients will be able to say how quickly practices answer the phone or offer appointments, and how long they remain open.
It is understood that a system will be set up to stop the posting of reviews that libel NHS staff.
Ms Hewitt told the seminar that the combination of choice and information could act as a stronger lever than targets: 'If your infection rates are not good and patients don't come to your hospital, that is more powerful than any target we can set.'
With more self-health groups in existence than GP practices, she said, the NHS needed to recognise that 'more and more, healthcare is about partnership with the patient'.
Health minister Lord Hunt has questioned whether nursing leaders could do more to make an impact on policy-making.
He told a nursing conference on Tuesday: 'I doubt they are feeding into policy as much as they could. It's partly about our willingness to listen, but it's also about their willingness to go outside the confines of the profession itself.'