Prospective Observational Study on the Prevalence and Diagnostic Value of General Practitioners’ Gut Feelings for Cancer and Serious Diseases

Friday, January 28th, 2022



General practitioners (GPs) have recognized the presence of gut feelings in their diagnostic process. However, little is known about the frequency or determinants of gut feelings or the diagnostic value of gut feelings for cancer and other serious diseases.


To assess the prevalence of gut feelings in general practice, examine their determinants and impact on patient management, and measure their diagnostic value for cancer and other serious diseases.


This prospective observational study was performed using the Gut Feelings Questionnaire (GFQ).


Participants included 155 GPs and 1487 of their patients, from four Spanish provinces.

Main Measures

Sociodemographic data from patients and GPs; the reasoning style of GPs; the characteristics of the consultation; the presence and kind of gut feeling; the patient’s subsequent contacts with the health system; and new cancer and serious disease diagnoses reported at 2 and 6 months post-consultation.

Key Results

GPs experienced a gut feeling during 97% of the consultations: a sense of reassurance in 75% of consultations and a sense of alarm in 22% of consultations. A sense of alarm was felt at higher frequency given an older patient, the presence of at least one cancer-associated symptom, or a non-urban setting. GPs took diagnostic action more frequently after a sense of alarm. After 2 months, the sense of alarm had a sensitivity of 59% for cancer and other serious diseases (95% CI 47–71), a specificity of 79% (95% CI 77–82), a positive predictive value of 12% (95% CI 9–16), and a negative predictive value of 98% (95% CI 86–98).


Gut feelings are consistently present in primary care medicine, and they play a substantial role in a GP’s clinical reasoning and timely diagnosis of serious disease. The sense of alarm must be taken seriously and used to support diagnostic evaluation in patients with a new reason for encounter.

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