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.