NHS hospitals are to be allowed to advertise to attract patients for the first time under a marketing code to be published by the Department of Health.
One independent hospital chain has already run ads
A draft version seen by BBC News says the NHS needs to give "reliable information" to help patient choice and should not spend too much on ads.
Unions have said any form of marketing in the NHS is a waste of money.
One independent hospital chain, Capio, ran adverts targeted at GPs and health workers from October.
The NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, said it was highly likely that NHS providers would consider similar types of advertising
The marketing code will not put a limit on the amount of money hospitals can spend, but it is expected to say disproportionate expenditure could affect the reputation of the NHS.
It is thought it would be up to individual hospitals to decide how much they spend and advertisements would be one way to present the successes of particular hospitals to patients.
Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said publicising information on everything from operation results to car parking was a vital part of giving patients choice.
She said: "We are trying to change the NHS from being a service where you get what you're given really, to a service where patients are much more able to choose what they want.
"Hospitals need to understand what patients want, and secondly they need to make GPs - and patients in some cases - aware of what is actually available."
But the British Medical Association has said spending money on advertising would mean less money for patient care.
Dr Laurence Buckman, a leading member of the BMA's GP committee, said: "Patients want money to be spent on their healthcare, not spent on advertising to doctors so the hospital makes more money.
"The health service is not about making money, it is about delivering care for patients."
Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA's consultants' committee said government reforms had forced the NHS to compete against new private providers for business.
He said: "NHS hospitals will have no option but to invest in marketing tactics, such as advertising, if they are to survive against private firms who will already have large marketing budgets and considerable expertise in selling themselves.
"It is a sad indictment of government policy to consider spending public money on advertising NHS services when hospitals are having to make cutbacks in patient care and compulsory redundancies in order to save money."
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: "The very idea that hospitals should spend taxpayers' money on advertising for patients instead of on treating patients is simply ridiculous.
"It is the government's obsession with competition and choice that is forcing hospitals to set aside common sense and waste money in this way."
Patients are now able to choose, from a limited selection, which hospital they wish to be treated at.
In addition, a new system called payment by results means hospitals will be paid per patient treated.
Capio has a contract to treat about 95,000 NHS patients over five years in nine centres in England.
Capio chief executive Tom Mann said: "As a comparatively new provider, we need to use marketing to inform the people who influence patient choice.
"This is a natural part of developing a competitive marketplace."