Gut feeling is a key tool for doctors: Oxford study

London: Doctors should not ignore a `gut feeling` about serious illness when treating a child, according to a study by researchers from the University of Oxford and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

"Gut feeling is an additional tool for GPs that takes more into account than just the purely clinical presentation," explains Dr Ann Van den Bruel, who led the research at the Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford.

"It is important that gut feeling is recognised as such and considered a valid argument for taking action.

"We feel that experiencing a gut feeling about a child should make a GP consider 3 things: carry out a full and very careful examination looking for possible warning signs or red flags; ask the opinion of someone with more experience; or provide clear and specific advice to parents on how and when to come back," she said.

A clinician`s intuitive feeling that something is wrong, even after examination that suggests otherwise, appears to have diagnostic value, the expert said.

The researchers from Oxford and Belgium carried out an observational study on 3,890 children under 16 years old who presented in primary care in Flanders, Belgium in 2004, a university release said.

They wanted to see what added value gut feeling provides to a diagnosis and recorded factors that included the doctor`s overall impression and whether gut feeling suggested something more serious was wrong.

Out of the 3369 children assessed as having a non-severe illness at the time of consultation, 6 (0.2 per cent) were later admitted to hospital with a serious infection.

Results show that acting on gut feeling had the potential to prevent 2 of the 6 cases being missed at the cost of 44 false alarms, but that these were not unmanageable.

The probability of a serious infection decreased from 0.2 per cent to 0.1 per cent when gut feeling was absent, the release added.

Less experienced clinicians reported a gut feeling more frequently than their more senior counterparts.

However, the diagnostic power of gut feeling was no better in experienced than non-experienced clinicians.