The 'sense of alarm' ('gut feeling') in clinical practice. A survey among European general practitioners on recognition and expression

Eur J Gen Pract. 2010 Jun;16(2):72-4. doi: 10.3109/13814781003653424.


Objective: Most general practitioners in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium) are familiar with that special feeling during certain consultations: 'There's something wrong here, though I have no specific indications yet'. This 'sense of alarm' alerts the doctor, activates the diagnostic process and induces him to initiate specific management to prevent serious health problems. We wanted to know whether this sense of alarm is a typical phenomenon among Dutch-speaking GPs or is also recognized by GPs elsewhere in Europe.

Methods: A short questionnaire survey was held among 128 GPs in 28 countries included in the European General Practitioners Research Network (EGPRN). GPs were asked if they recognized our description of the 'sense of alarm' and if they used a typical phrase in their language to express this uneasy feeling.

Results: We received 30 replies from GPs in 16 European countries, plus Israel and South-Africa. They all recognized our description and 25 GPs reported typical expressions in their own language. The GPs' uneasy feeling was sometimes perceived as a bodily sensation.

Conclusion: The 'sense of alarm' is a familiar phenomenon in general practices in Europe. We propose to use the English phrase 'gut feelings' in further research reports.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Data Collection
  • Decision Making*
  • Diagnosis
  • Europe
  • Family Practice / methods
  • Humans
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'