The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today released an updated and improved version of the Surgeon General's Internet-based family health history tool. The new tool makes it easier for consumers to assemble and share family health history information. It can also help practitioners make better use of health history information so they can provide more informed and personalized care for their patients.

"This valuable tool can put family histories to work to improve patient well-being and the quality of care," HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "The tool is built on health information technology standards that make it more convenient for consumers and more useful for practitioners. It is ready for use in electronic health records. And its software code will be openly available to other health organizations, so they can customize and build on its standards base."

"Family history has always been an important part of good health care, but it has been underused," said Acting Surgeon General Steven Galson, a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. "Today, with our growing knowledge of genetics, family history is becoming even more important. The new tool will help consumers and clinicians alike. It will also serve as a platform for developing new risk assessment software that will help in screening and prevention of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions."

Key features of the new version of the Surgeon General's My Family Health Portrait include:

  • Convenience -- Consumers can access the tool easily on the Web. Completing the family health history profile typically takes 15-20 minutes. Consumers should not have to keep filling out different health history forms for different practitioners. Information is easily updated or amended.
  • Consumer control and privacy -- The family health history tool gives consumers access to software that builds a family health tree. But the personal information entered during the use of the tool is not kept by a government or other site. Consumers download their information to their own computer. From there, they have control over how the information is used.
  • Sharing -- Because the information is in electronic form, it can be easily shared with relatives or with practitioners. Relatives can add to the information, and a special re-indexing feature helps relatives easily start their own history based on data in a history they received. Practitioners can help consumers understand and use their information.
  • EHR-ready, Decision support-ready -- Because the new tool is based on commonly used standards, the information it generates is ready for use in electronic health records and personal health records. It can be used in developing clinical decision software, which helps the practitioner understand and make the most use of family health information.
  • Personalization of care -- Family history information can help alert practitioners and patients to patient-specific susceptibilities.
  • Downloadable, customizable -- The code for the new tool is openly available for others to adopt. Health organizations are invited to download and customize, using the tool under their own brand and adding features that serve their needs. Developers may also use the code to create new risk assessment software tools.

The first adopter of the HHS-developed tool is the National Institute of Genomic Medicine of Mexico (INMEGEN). Dr. Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez, director general of the institute, will release the Mexican Spanish-language version of the tool in Mexico City this month. The Mexican family health history tool will be available on the INMEGEN Web site.


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