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Happy Thanksgiving! Collect and act on your family health history

November 21, 2016   PRESS CONTACT

As you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family this November, remember that this special day is also National Family Health History Day.

Share with Your Family

Family health history is important to your health and can help you detect unique disease risks and manage them before becoming sick, or find the right diagnosis and treatments when you have a certain disease. Collecting and acting on your family health history is also important to your loved ones, who could benefit from better knowledge of their health risks and those of their children. And, family health history is becoming important to public health systems that screen for and serve populations at higher than average risk for disease, such as cancer and heart disease.

In spite of its proven value, the use of family history in health care and public health has not reached its potential. Why? Collecting and sharing the information is not easy or automatic. And, the information often is not stored in a consistent, accessible, and interpretable way.

But the good news is that an increasing variety of software tools now exist that make collecting and sharing information easier and more standard. These tools can be used in cancer risk clinics, hospitals and doctors' offices, homes, and with families.

In June 2016, The National Human Genome Research Institute gathered family health history experts, scientists, government agencies, and developers and vendors of fourteen family health history tools on the National Institutes for Health (NIH) campus for a two-day meeting. We learned that significant advances have been made.

Several encouraging developments during the meeting are worth mentioning:

  • New ideas were raised that could help doctors more easily use family members' health information in treatment.
  • Developers working on different segments of the medical family history process explored partnering in order to achieve a comprehensive solution faster.
  • Opportunities for broader use of electronic health record data were discussed.

Researchers are eagerly exploring these developments but working closely with federal agencies and patient advocates to ensure privacy protections are in place.

This Thanksgiving, start a new tradition that could keep you and your family healthy. While gathering with your loved ones, collect your family health history. Use the free tool, My Family Health Portrait, developed by the U.S. Surgeon General and managed by the National Human Genome Research Institute. It's easy to use, runs securely in your web browser, and lets you save your information to a standard data file or print it to share with your health care provider.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

Last updated: November 21, 2016