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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2002 Dec;41(12):1402-5.

The use of the Internet as a resource for health information among patients attending a rheumatology clinic.

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Department of Rheumatology, Gartnavel General Hospital, Glasgow, UK.



To determine the proportion of patients attending a rheumatology clinic who have access to a computer with Internet capabilities, to establish how often they search for health information, and how difficult or useful they find this resource.


We performed a questionnaire-based study of consecutive patients attending a rheumatology clinic in two city teaching hospitals over a 1 week period. Patients were asked if they owned or had access to a computer with Internet capabilities, and if they had searched for information on shopping, holidays, entertainment or health information. Further questions were then directed at the nature of the health information, how useful it was and how easy the patient found it to access the details. Patient demographic data were obtained by case record review.


One hundred and forty patients were approached; 138 completed questionnaires were collected. One hundred and one respondents (73%) were female. Median patient age was 58 yr (range 18-84). One hundred and seven (78%) had rheumatoid arthritis, with median disease duration of 8 yr (range 6 months to 49 yr). Sixty (43%) had access to the Internet, mostly at home, and used it most frequently for holiday information. Thirty-seven (27% of all respondents) reported that they had searched for medical information on a median of 2 (range 1-10) occasions in the previous 12 months. Of these, 83% perceived the information as useful, 54% discovered something they had not previously known and 31% reported it was easier than asking their doctor or nurse. Patients searched on-line for information on their arthritis (83%), drug treatment (54%), alternative therapies (31%), diet and arthritis (46%) and patient organizations (11%). No patients recalled being advised to search for information by their doctor or nurse. Patients who searched for medical information were younger (median age 48 vs 62 yr; P<0.001), more likely to be employed (32 vs 16%) and more likely to be married or in a stable relationship (84 vs 66%); there were no differences in sex distribution, diagnosis, disease duration or social deprivation.


One in four patients attending our rheumatology clinic had searched the Internet for medical information in the last 12 months. Almost one-third found it easier than asking their health-care professional. Further studies are required to explore the wider application of this resource and to determine the validity and reliability of the information obtained.

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