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


The official web site of the German Competence Network Rheumatology ( 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.


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%.


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.