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Gut feelings in the diagnostic process of Spanish GPs: a focus group study
  1. Bernardino Oliva1,
  2. Sebastià March2,
  3. Cristina Gadea3,
  4. Erik Stolper4,5,
  5. Magdalena Esteva2
  1. 1Majorca Primary Care Department, Trencadors Primary Health Centre, Llucmajor, Spain
  2. 2Majorca Primary Care Department, Research Unit, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
  3. 3Majorca Primary Care Department, Playa de Palma Primary Health Centre, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
  4. 4Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Department of General Practice, Caphri School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  5. 5Department of Primary and Interdisciplinary Care, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Dr Bernardino Oliva; boliva{at}


Objectives The gut feelings of doctors can act as triggers and modulators of the diagnostic process. This study explored the existence, significance, determinants and triggers of gut feelings among Spanish general practitioners.

Design Qualitative study using focus groups. Thematic content analysis.

Setting Primary healthcare centres in Majorca (Spain).

Participants 20 purposively sampled general practitioners working in Majorca.

Results General practitioners were aware of the existence of gut feelings in their diagnostic reasoning process and recognised 2 kinds of gut feelings: a sense of alarm and a sense of reassurance. A previous physician–patient relationship and the physician's experience had a strong perceived influence on the appearance of gut feelings. The physicians attached great significance to gut feelings, and considered them as a characteristic of the primary care working style and as a tool available in their diagnostic process. The physicians thought that the notion of gut feelings and their relevance can be transmitted to students and trainees. They tended to follow their gut feelings, although they were not sure of their accuracy.

Conclusions Spanish general practitioners in our study recognise the presence and role of gut feelings in their diagnostic reasoning process. Future research should examine the diagnostic accuracy of gut feelings and how to teach about gut feelings in the training of general practitioners.

  • Diagnostics
  • Intuition

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  • Twitter Follow Bernardino Oliva @c_c_baxter

  • Contributors The study was conceived and designed by BO, SM and ME with support from ES. Focus groups were organised by BO, SM and ME. BO, SM and CG conducted the analysis. BO led the writing guided by SM and ME, with additional comments from ES. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Majorca Primary Care Department grant PI004/16. It also received funding support from the Network for Prevention and Health Promotion in Primary Care (redIAPP, RD12/0005/0011) cofinanced with European Union ERDF funds and the Carlos III Health Institute of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The study was evaluated and approved by the Majorca Primary Care Department Research Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Full transcripts of the focus groups and quotes and authorisation of the study are available by email from the corresponding author.