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Abstract

Objective

To analyze the inquiries sent to an online ask-the-rheumatologist service in order to identify the users' needs and requirements.

Methods

The official web site of the German Competence Network Rheumatology (www.rheumanet.org) provided expert information for patients, relatives, and physicians. We analyzed the content of 1,133 inquiries posted over 5 years and the experts' answers were blinded for analyses.

Results

Patients (60.0%), relatives (24.3%), and physicians (15.7%) addressed the experts. Inquiries were predominantly sent by women (62.2%). Distinct rheumatic diseases were mentioned in 40.5% of the inquiries, and 16.3% reported musculoskeletal symptoms without a definite diagnosis. The number of questions ranged from 1–7 per inquiry (mean ± SD 1.58 ± 0.9). Of the inquiries, 33.2% contained personal histories, 24.9% searched for a rheumatologist nearby, and 11.6% asked for a “second opinion.” The questions covered a wide range of interests, including medication (30.8%), diagnosis-related issues (15.7%), laboratory tests (6.9%), (treatment) guidelines (6.2%), sexual and reproductive health issues (4.1%), and clinical trials (3.4%). In more than 50% of the inquiries, the information requested from the experts was already at least partly published on the web site. The experts' answers covered the users' questions completely in 91.8%, partly in 6.1%, and not at all in 2.1%.

Conclusion

A standardized medical web site providing tailored and trustworthy information for all user groups gains from an ask-the-expert service. Only such an interactive online application is able to satisfy users' actual demands: searching for specific individualized information on the internet. Therefore, an ask-the-expert service contributes to optimized patient care.