25 August 2020

GP ‘Gut Feeling’ Should Not Be Ignored, Says RCGP

Responding to research published in the British Journal of General Practice on the role of GPs’ ‘gut feelings’ in diagnosing cancer, Dr Jonathan Leach, Honorary Secretary of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs consider a huge variety of factors when making a patient diagnosis. As well as more obvious physical symptoms, non-verbal cues can often indicate that something is wrong – not necessarily what the patient has made an appointment to speak about. This ‘gut feeling’ or intuition is something that GPs develop by having close, trusting relationships with patients that are often built over time, and isn’t something that should be ignored.

“As this paper suggests, a GP’s ‘gut feeling’ can be useful in identifying potential serious health conditions, such as cancer, even when patients don’t meet the official criteria for referral to specialist care. This is one reason why GPs need some flexibility in being able to refer patients where they are concerned as well as better access to investigations in the community, and the appropriate training to use them, so they can pursue their intuition, and take the results into account when making an informed decision to refer a patient. 

“It is also something that should be considered when looking into the way patients access general practice services in the future. Remote consultations can be convenient for patients, and they have been vital in helping to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and keeping patients safe during the pandemic. However, they can pose challenges for GPs, not least the lack of non-verbal cues that we often use to help us make a diagnosis. Whilst there is a place for remote consulting in general practice, neither GPs nor patients want to see it become a totally remote service, but one where patients can choose how to access general practice according to their needs and preferences.

“Timely diagnosis of cancer can be essential in achieving positive health outcomes for patients and the RCGP has developed resources to support GPs and our teams in this area. It is now important that this research is taken into account as guidelines and criteria for referral for suspected cancers are developed and updated.”

Further Information
The full BJGP paper is attached in PDF format (195 KB).
It will be available on the BJGP website once the embargo has lifted.

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.