AIM To assess the value of directing the attention of patients to sources of medical information on the internet. DESIGN Prospective qualitative study in an orthopaedic outpatient clinic. PARTICIPANTS 253 patients agreed to complete electronic questionnaires before and after reviewing information relevant to their conditions on the internet. Patients were allocated randomly into two groups; one group was given indications of general sites and the other recommended specific non-commercial sites. Completed questionnaires were received from 44 patients. RESULTS 95% of the patients found the internet information easy to understand and 84% said that it was helpful for coping. 86% of the patients were satisfied that their current treatment was appropriate in the light of what they had learned from the internet. Ten patients out of the 36 who expressed a view thought that the internet information contradicted that provided by the doctor. Despite these results most patients still said that the doctor represented the best source of patient education. CONCLUSIONS Increasing numbers of patients are familiar with the internet. Most of our patients felt that the internet was, on balance, helpful in providing information. The main difficulties with the internet are the sheer volume of information, the potential for misleading and the danger of misunderstanding. We feel that there is a real place for the specific prescription of an internet site by a clinician who has personally reviewed it to a patient thought to be able to benefit from it.