Objectives To examine patients' accounts of their use of the internet before seeing a general practitioner (GP) using thematic analysis of semistructured interviews. Design Qualitative semistructured interview study with transcripts analysed thematically. Setting Primary care patients consulting with 10 GPs working at 7 GP practices of varying sizes and at a range of locations around London and the Southeast of England. Participants 28 adult patients: 16 women and 12 men ranging in age from 18 to 75 from a range of self-defined ethnic backgrounds. Participants were selected based on instances when the patients reported having used the internet before the consultation, when patients referred to the internet in the consultation or when the physician used the internet or made reference to it during the consultation. Results Patients report that they can find health information online that they believe is reliable and helpful for both themselves and their GP. However, they report uncertainty about how to share internet-based findings and reluctance to disclose their efforts at researching health issues online for fear of appearing disrespectful or interfering with the flow of the consultation. Conclusions Despite the democratisation of access to information about health due via the internet, patients continue to experience their use of the internet for health information as a sensitive and potentially problematic topic. The onus may well be on GPs to raise the likelihood (without judgement) that patients will have looked things up before consulting and invite them to talk about what they found.