Should we trust the doctor’s gut feeling?

I enjoy listening to the BBC podcast Inside Health with GP Dr Mark Porter.

One of the recent topics on the show was ‘gut feeling’. Dr Porter interviewed GP Dr Ann Van den Bruel who has done some fascinating research on this topic.

In one study, published in BMJ, Van den Bruel was able to calculate the diagnostic accuracy of the doctor’s instinct and found that it is one of the most powerful predictors of, for example, serious infections in children. One of the recommendations of the authors is:

We should certainly make clear when teaching that an inexplicable (or not fully explicable) gut feeling is an important diagnostic sign and a good reason for seeking the opinion of someone with more expertise or scheduling a review of the child.

Invaluable advice, and something most experienced GPs will do routinely. Van den Bruel: “It’s not a hundred per cent right but the chance that something serious is going on is much higher when a doctor has a gut feeling.”

It’s good to know that trusting our gut instinct may not be unscientific after all, and will add to the quality of patient care.