Heartlift patients? An interview-based study of GP trainers and the impact of 'patients they like'

Fam Pract. 2008 Oct;25(5):349-54. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmn043. Epub 2008 Aug 20.


Background: The concept of the 'heartsink patient' is well known and much used when talking about general practice. The opposite of this type of patient, however, has been little explored.

Objective: To identify patient characteristics valued by GPs.

Methods: Structured interview to collect narratives from GPs of individual patients, analysed qualitatively through thematic analysis and word frequency.

Setting: Primary Care in Ireland.

Participants: GP trainers.

Main outcome measures: Emergent themes from four lead questions: Tell me about a patient you like, Tell me about the patient's personality, What have you learned about yourself as a GP?, What is different about being a GP as opposed to any other kind of doctor? In addition, a corpus linguistic analysis of word frequencies disclosed further themes, not identifiable on the surface of discourse.

Results: Ten themes were identified: GPs valued patients who were likeable, a challenge, involved them in negotiation of the doctor-patient relationship, were interesting or virtuous and had a positive effect. GPs valued their profession in that they were facilitators, gave and elicited loyalty, formed personal attachments and had a different perspective.

Conclusions: 'Heartlift patients' may be a robust concept, to counterbalance heartsink patients. Data collected are suitable for training, and could help GPs enhance a sense of vocation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Ireland
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Family*