A Call to Modernize Family Health Histories
May 12, 2015 2:00 PM
Patients who are actively engaged in their health care tend to be healthier. They spend less on medical care and what care they receive tends to result in better outcomes. Yet many patients lack the confidence, knowledge and time to take control of their health.
One invaluable, low-tech tool that should be in everybody’s health toolbox is the family health history. Phoning or emailing all your relatives and asking them to share intimate information about inherited diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, isn’t most peoples’ idea of fun. It’s not as sexy as having your genome sequenced.
But family health portraits are growing in importance as scientists race to find the genetic causes of all manner of diseases, and develop targeted drugs, treatments and personalized prevention plans. Most Americans understand this; 96 percent consider family health histories to be “very important” or “somewhat important,” according to 2014 survey recently co-authored by Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist and Associate Professor of Pediatrics here at the University of Utah.
Yet, despite this awareness and numerous government campaigns urging people to collect family heath histories, collection rates have barely budged over the last decade. Fewer than 37 percent actively compile such information, showed Schiffman’s survey, which was published by the American Journal of Medical Genetics.
In a companion opinion piece in JAMA,Schiffman concludes that new, web-based tools are needed to boost collection rates. Currently available tools are “archaic by today’s standards,” opined Schiffman and co-authors,
Willard Dere, M.D., director of the U.’s Program In Personalized Health, and Utah alumnus, Brandon Welch, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. “If designed correctly, family history tools will play an important role in the rapidly changing world of personalized medicine.”
To realize their potential in today’s era of big data, the authors say, a family history tool should meet these clinical objectives:
- It should “harness the social potential” of families and foster intra-family communication.
- It should meet federal “meaningful use” requirements and be interoperable with hospital electronic health record systems.
- More than a repository of familial disease, the tool should return useful health information and evidence-based recommendations to patients.