Okay, so now it’s clear that a family medical history is a useful tool for present and future generations to know and mitigate their health risks. But building such a tree is a daunting experience. Where and how do you start?
The first thing to decide is, in what form should the medical tree be? In this day and age, such an important record should be done in electronic form. Luckily, there is this tool called My Family Health Portrait available at the site of the US Dept of Health and Human Services. The tool is compatible with the electronic medical record system Health Vault. The tool allows you to
- · Enter your family health history.
- · Print your family health history to share with family or your health care worker.
- · Save your family health history so you can update it over time.
The research and data gathering
However, for the My Family Health Portrait to work, information input is needed. The MD Anderson Cancer Center gives us the following tips on how to gather data for the family medical history. Although these recommendations may be focused on cancer, the medical tree your will create will be actually applicable to almost all diseases with a genetic component.
The basic data
Find out your ancestry. Include the country or countries where you ancestors came from originally. Some ancestries, like Jews of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) descent, have a higher risk for certain cancers.
List blood relatives. Include your first (parents, siblings, children), second (nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents) and third (cousins, possibly great-aunts and -uncles) degree relatives. Add the current age of each or the age when they died.
Add cancer diagnoses, if any. Include the age when they were diagnosed with cancer, if you can find that out. List details, such as the part of the body where the cancer started and how the cancer was treated (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery).
Finding out the details
- · Sometimes a little more intensive research and digging in is needed to find the details. Here are some ways to find more:
- · Speak with older relatives. They are usually good sources for information.
- · Gather hospital records when there is some uncertainty. Hospitals can release records directly to the patient. Has a relative died? Hospitals can release records to the next of kin, the closest relative(s) entitled to the deceased individual’s property.
Coming next: how to use info in the family medical tree