Health :: Know your family health history

Calling on all Americans to “know their family history,” U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., today unveiled an updated version of a computerized tool designed to help families gather their health information, and praised Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for joining in to expand the Surgeon General’s Family Health Initiative.

This Thanksgiving marks the second annual National Family History Day. I encourage all families to take time on this day – or at any other family gathering throughout the year – to collect important health history information that can benefit all family members, Dr. Carmona said.

Even with all the high-tech tests, medicines and procedures available in today’s modern health-care setting, family health history remains the cornerstone of our efforts to prevent disease and promote personal health. It’s clear that knowing your family history can save your life.

Dr. Carmona released an updated, Web-based version of a free, computerized tool that organizes family health information into a printout that people can take to health-care professionals to help determine whether they are at higher risk for disease. The tool, called “My Family Health Portrait,” is available at

Health-care professionals have known for a long time that many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, can run in families. A detailed family history can predict the disorders for which a person may be at increased risk, and thereby help to develop more personalized action plans. However, as numerous pressures decrease the amount of time that doctors and nurses spend with their patients, it has become increasingly difficult to gather enough family information to make useful predictions. The “My Family Health Portrait” tool is intended to make that process easier and more efficient for both patients and health-care professionals.

Dr. Carmona urged families and employers in all parts of the country to follow the lead of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which held a press conference in Boston today to launch its effort to support and evaluate the voluntary use of the Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait” tool among its more than 12,000 employees. The workforce of the 735-bed hospital includes physicians, nurses, administrative, service and management staff.

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