In inflammatory bowel disease it is important that patients understand their condition since this helps to improve long-term management of the disease. The aim of this study was to assess the information given to patients with inflammatory bowel disease about their condition, its treatment and the National Association for Colitis and Crohn's disease. Two surveys were performed, using anonymous questionnaires. One was of all association members in north-east England, the other was a sample of patients attending medical outpatients. The surveys showed that more patients heard of the National Association for Colitis and Crohn's disease from the media than from medical sources. Of patients seen in medical clinics, 75% would welcome more information about their disease. In four of the six participating centres less than half the patients had been told about the existence of a patients' association. There was considerable variation in the instructions on what action to take in the event of a relapse. These findings suggest that the opportunity offered by out-patient clinics to educate and inform patients is often wasted. Clinicians often neglect to mention the National Association for Colitis and Crohn's disease, especially to patients with long-standing disease. A higher priority should be given to providing patients with appropriate information on inflammatory bowel disease. Three simple audit standards for the organisation of outpatient clinic information are proposed.