Top 3 Benefits of a Digital Family History

Built-in tools lead to better decisions

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There’s a reason I mention family health history in almost every blog post: It’s an important tool in your doctor’s tool box for helping predict your risk for disease. What “runs in your family” matters.

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Family health history is a cornerstone of personalized healthcare, a trend shaping the future of medical care, according to Cleveland Clinic’s Toby Cosgrove, M.D. In November, I introduced a tool you can print and take to family gatherings to collect family history. But we’re also working on ways to add family health history to your electronic health record. Here are three big benefits of doing so.

1. Gather data at home, doctors use it anywhere

“A record is only as effective as the data it contains. Family health history should be built right in.”

Kathryn Teng

Kathryn Teng, MD

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Center for Personalized Healthcare

Electronic health records can be everywhere. Your doctor can access them in the office, in a lab, in an operating room, and even remotely.

But a record is only as effective as the data it contains. Family health history should be built right in. Newer systems are doing that. For example, working with Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute, we have developed a new tool called MyFamily. The tool is part of the MyChart electronic health record patient portal. Using the tool, patients build their family trees on their own computer or device at home. Then they integrate with the systemwide electronic health record system.

2. Analyze your disease risk

Collecting information is one thing. Having a built-in tool that analyzes the information is another.

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New systems take all that information you gather and use it to help doctors make smarter decisions. It’s like an electronic physician’s assistant. If you have a family history of colon cancer, the system notes it. Then your doctor may want you to get tests such as colonoscopies earlier than the typical patient. Or if you have red flags for a genetic condition, your doctor may refer you for genetic counseling.

MyFamily now analyzes 12 conditions, but we’re adding more. Our goal is to have MyFamily in the hands of all Cleveland Clinic primary care providers by the end of 2014.

3. Make appointments more effective  

With an integrated electronic tool, your doctor gets to prep before a visit just as much as you do.

With MyFamily, for example, patients get a reminder email about gathering their history before an annual well-check appointment. Doctors and staff can review the information before an appointment. Both patient and doctor can be ready to discuss health history during an appointment — rather than spending time collecting it.

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Kathryn Teng, MD

Kathryn Teng, MD, is Director of the Center for Personalized Healthcare and leads Cleveland Clinic’s efforts to integrate personalized healthcare into standard practice.
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