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National Family Health History Day

Happy multigeneration family gathering around notebook and having fun during a video call
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Did you know that tomorrow is not only Thanksgiving but also National Family Health History Day? The initiative to combine this family gathering day with collecting family medical information was begun by U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona in 2004. One reason it began is due to physicians and medical scientists realizing how much an individual’s health is tied into the genetics and health conditions of their ancestors, but they had noticed that many people are unaware of their family’s medical history. As noted in a report, “Although 96% of persons in the United States believe that knowing their family history is important, only one third of them have ever tried to gather and write down their family health history.” By collecting the medical history of your relatives, it helps you to learn more about what health conditions may affect you – or your descendants – in the future. And, as knowledge about treatments and preventative health therapies continue to improve, this can help you learn how to lead a healthier, longer life. For more, read this article written for the 10th anniversary of this health initiative:

As shown in the above articles and website, there is a great online tool created to help you with collecting your family health history.  It is My Family Health Portrait.

My Family Health Portrait A tool from the Surgeon General screenshot

If you prefer not to use this free online software version, they have also created a printable family health portrait, which is available in both English and Spanish. For more about filling in this medical history, see: Learn more about My Family Health Portrait.

The Genetic Alliance has created a “Does It Run in the Family?” toolkit which is also very useful for learning about collecting your family health history. This toolkit includes two printable books: A Guide to Family Health History and A Guide to Genetics and Health.

A Guide to Family Health History and A Guide to Genetics and Health bookcovers

The books are both available in English (book 1 & book 2) and Spanish (book 1 & book 2). Or you can visit to create a free, customized book in either English or Spanish. Also, there is a Healthcare Provider Card (both English and Spanish) to share with your family physician. This card’s purpose is “for you to fill out and bring to your healthcare provider. One side of the card concentrates on concerns you have about your family health history. On the other side, there is information for your provider on how to best use your family history to determine your risk of getting a disease.” And finally, a Family Health History Questionnaire to share with family members as you work to complete your family health history portrait. As they note, “this questionnaire can be used to collect valuable health information from relatives without doing an interview. Paired with a family newsletter, this may be a quick and easy way to collect information. Remember that not everyone will feel comfortable sharing his or her information this way, so be sure to explain exactly what you are using the information for.”

Another resource to visit is the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Families SHARE webpage. “Families Sharing Health Assessment and Risk Evaluation (SHARE) helps you and your family learn how your family health history affects your risk for diseases.” There are printable worksheets available for:

To learn more about how these worksheets help you learn your risk for the above conditions, check out this handout.

Once you have your family health portrait completed, it is recommended to share it with your family medical doctors.  In this way, they can work with using precision medicine to help you.  You may be wondering: “What is Precision Medicine?” From Medline Plus, here’s a definition:

According to the Precision Medicine Initiative, precision medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” This approach will allow doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people. It is in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach, in which disease treatment and prevention strategies are developed for the average person, with less consideration for the differences between individuals.

Although the term “precision medicine” is relatively new, the concept has been a part of healthcare for many years. For example, a person who needs a blood transfusion is not given blood from a randomly selected donor; instead, the donor’s blood type is matched to the recipient to reduce the risk of complications. Although examples can be found in several areas of medicine, the role of precision medicine in day-to-day healthcare is relatively limited. Researchers hope that this approach will expand to many areas of health and healthcare in coming years.

The CDC also provides a great explanation on their webpage: Precision health: Improving health for each of us and all of us. And you can read much more about this type of medicine in the January 2019 issue of National Geographic which is available in the library’s resource: Flipster. While the entire issue is devoted to discussing the “Future of Medicine”, an article of particular interest about precision medicine is: “Every Body is Unique.” (pages 42-67)

You can find even more about both Family Health History and Precision Medicine by using many of the resources available on the library’s Health Resources webpage. In fact, most of the information for this blog came from using linked resources, such as:

So, as a final reminder:

Happy Thanksgiving Family Health History Graphic

(NOTE: graphic originally from October 2016 NIH Clinical Center News newsletter – but updated here with corrected URL for the Surgeon General’s tool)
Sara Churchill

Sara Churchill is the Digital Services Specialist and Assistant Supervisor in the Information Services Department at Main Library. A major fan of technology devices and computer research resources at work, she enjoys helping everyone learn to use their devices and the library's many online resources.  She loves reading Science Fiction/Fantasy books, British cozy mysteries, True Crime and other true stories, plus a past reader of horror fiction by the likes of Stephen King and John Saul (among others).  Also, she’s a big fan of Sci-fi, action, horror, spaghetti westerns, and based-on-a-true story movies.  Her blogs are for adults and the entire family to enjoy reading and trying out the many online resources free for PLYMC library cardholders to use.