Objective. To investigate to what extent and why new rheumatology patients access medical information online prior to first appointments and secondarily to ask whether they discuss information gained from the Internet with physicians. Methods. Research was conducted in a teaching rheumatology clinic with a nonrandom sample of 120 English-speaking adults presenting for first appointments in rheumatology. Quantitative and qualitative data were gained in pre- and postappointment patient surveys and interviews, including online information gathering prior to first appointment, demographics, health status, information usage in patient-physician interactions, and satisfaction. Data were analyzed for significant relationships across variables and for qualitative insights into quantitative outcome measures. Results. Of all patients, 87.5% looked up their symptoms or suspected condition prior to their first appointment and 62.5% of all patients sought that information on the Internet. Only 20% of online information seekers discussed that information with their physicians. Age and sex were significant predictors of Internet information seeking. Physician and patient appointment satisfaction was significantly higher when Internet information was discussed; however, most patients did not discuss their information seeking because they primarily feared being perceived as challenging their physician. Conclusion. The majority of patients research their conditions online prior to initial appointments, but are unlikely to discuss that research with physicians even though discussion is related to higher satisfaction. Physicians may want to consider strategies for enabling communication about online research.
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