Skip navigation

NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Creating a Family Health History: 12/31/2012

Picture of Dr. Lindberg

Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

It’s the time of the year when many families are together to enjoy the blessings of the season. One free — but valuable — gift you might give to yourself and your family members is to complete a family health portrait.

A family health portrait is helpful to you and your health care provider — regardless if you are strangers or old friends. The reason is many common diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, plus some rare diseases, such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia, tend to run in families.

Since early detection and treatment improve your chance of recovery and quality of life, a family health portrait helps you alert a physician or other health care provider of a potential problem. It’s an early alert system that you can provide to help your physician assist you — as well as other family members.

About 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family health history is important, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. However, only about one-third of Americans take the time to create a health history of their siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.

The U.S. Surgeon General wants to ease the process to create a family history and provides a website, called ‘My Family Health Portrait’ that you can use to enter family health information.

To find the Surgeon General’s family health portrait website, just type ‘my family health portrait’ in any Internet search engine, such as Bing, Google or Yahoo. Then, click on ‘my family health portrait home page,’ or type the URL ‘familyhistory.hhs.gov’ in your favorite browser.

Once at the site, you will find a series of pages that are straightforward to complete. Instructions are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.

The sites’ first page asks you to fill in your name, age, gender, height, and weight. You can import some of this information from at least one electronic health records portal.

A pull down menu lists major diseases including: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancers. You are asked to select any that are part of your health history.

Then, from a second pull down menu you estimate the age when the disease or condition was diagnosed. There are a couple of questions (with an explanation of need) regarding race and ethnicity. You are then, asked the number of brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts etc. in your family. You can add health history information for individual family members.

The aggregate information can be saved on a computer, is easy to update in the future, and the information automatically can generate a family diagram and chart.

Incidentally, you control the information and its release.

While you may already know some family health information, it is helpful to obtain it from parents, grandparents, siblings, and relatives. This is why a family gathering, such as during this year’s holiday season, is a good time to inquire.

If your family understands your motive is to boost everyone’s health — and make it easier for a physician or nurse to help — it makes the process more caring than intrusive.

Once finished, you can print the results and take it to a health care provider, or send electronically. You can easily make copies to share with other family members, at your discretion.

Incidentally, I know an English-speaking family in Southern California that uses a clinic where much of the staff is more comfortable in Spanish. So, a few years ago the family filled out a family health portrait in English and then, in Spanish and took the latter to the clinic to be placed in their records. The clinic’s nurses and physicians warmly praised the family’s initiative.

The effort later paid a welcome dividend during the holidays when a visiting family member needed an ambulance and urgent care. The clinic’s emergency Spanish-speaking medical technicians already had some helpful family health history information when they showed up to assist.

Besides the Surgeon General’s site, MedlinePlus.gov also has a family history health topic page that provides more background information on why a family health history is advisable – and adds other, helpful resources.

In addition to the link I provided earlier, another gateway to the Surgeon General’s family health portrait is in both the ‘start here’ and ‘health check tools’ sections of MedlinePlus.gov’s family history health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov’s family history health topic page also provides a good link (and reminder) to know your child’s medical history, provided by the Nemours Foundation, which is in the ‘children’ section.

Other helpful links on the site include an overview of inheritance and health, called: ‘Does it run in the family: A guide to family health history’ that is provided by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and Genetic Alliance. This resource is in the ‘overviews’ section.

You can find MedlinePlus’ family history health topic page by typing ‘family history’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page. Then, click on ‘family history (National Library of Medicine).’

Our congratulations if you are among the one-third of American families that have prepared a family health history. We urge others to join; it is an inexpensive, thoughtful, and practical way to wish your family better health care in the future.

Before I go, this reminder… MedlinePlus.gov is authoritative. It's free. We do not accept advertising …and is written to help you.

To find MedlinePlus.gov, just type in 'MedlinePlus.gov' in any web browser, such as Firefox, Safari, Netscape, Chrome or Explorer. To find Mobile MedlinePlus.gov, just type 'Mobile MedlinePlus' in the same web browsers.

We encourage you to use MedlinePlus and please recommend it to your friends. MedlinePlus is available in English and Spanish. Some medical information is available in 43 other languages.

Your comments about this or any of our podcasts are always welcome. We welcome suggestions about future topics too!

Please email Dr. Lindberg anytime at: NLMDirector@nlm.nih.gov

That's NLMDirector (one word) @nlm.nih.gov

A written transcript of recent podcasts is available by typing 'Director's comments' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page.

The National Library of Medicine is one of 27 institutes and centers within the National Institutes of Health. The National Institutes of Health is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A disclaimer – the information presented in this program should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other health care provider.

I want to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy New Year. The National Library of Medicine and the 'Director's Comments' podcast staff, including Dr. Lindberg, appreciate your interest and company – and we hope to find new ways to serve you in 2013.