Patients and gut feelings.

When should patient intuition be taken seriously?

Upon till now we found one reference in literature where the value of patient intuition is discussed.(1) The authors suggest conditions under which patient intuition should be taken seriously such as’ the credibility or accuracy of the intuitive beliefs held by the patient, and their significance to the patient’. Research is needed on ‘how patient intuition can complement rather than oppose reasoned thinking in jointly shaping patient and clinician judgments, decision-making and action. Such research may help to integrate the processes of intuition and reasoning used by patients and clinicians in decision-making, with a goal of improving the patient-clinician relationship and health outcomes’.

Recently, Dutch, Belgium and Spanish researchers start a project that aims to compose and validate a short questionnaire determining a patient’s gut feeling in general practice.

1) Buetow SA, Mintoft B. When Should Patient Intuition be Taken Seriously? J Gen Intern Med. 2011;26(4):433-6.


Elena Shvarts, medical student in Antwerp (Belgium), did a literature search exploring what is already known about this topic. She wrote a Dutch language report with the following abstract:


There has already been much research into the use of intuition by doctors and nursing staff. But what role does the patient play? What factors influence the intuitive process of a patient? Perhaps a patient’s intuition could have an impact on the treatment process? A better understanding of this process could affect the doctor’s attitude towards the patients intuition.


A systematic search of the available literature was done using the keywords “intuition”, “gut feeling” and “decision taking” via the PubMed, CINAHL, and Google search engines. Documents from the database of the University of Antwerp library were also used. In total, after screening and a quality review, 25 articles were included in the research. There was no appointed time limit for this research.


It is apparent that intuition does indeed play a major role when a patient suspects a problem with their health. Furthermore, it also appears that the patient’s intuition could have a significant influence on both the diagnosis and the proscribed treatment. The validity of the patient’s intuition can vary, however, from individual to individual and often depends on different factors that have emerged in this study. These are, for example: the ability to recognize complex patterns and to translate these into concrete problems, the influence of implicit and explicit lessons, the focus, duration and repetition of these lessons, and the ability to see an overview of all stimuli. The doctor should therefore be well aware of the influence of these various factors. While intuition should never be ignored, it must always be analysed in a critical way in order to prevent the risk of a misdiagnosis.

Due to the complexity of the subject and the fact that there has been little research done on the topic, finding relevant literature was not easy. It is clear however that further research is necessary in order to obtain more insight into the intuitive process of a patient and, at the same time, provide professional medical staff with more clarity and guidance on how best to deal with it.

See list with references patient intuition.