Family Medical History Fumbled

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

November 9, 2004 -- "This morning ... U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona will launch a new initiative to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history. The reason is simple: knowing your family's medical history can save your life,"

This is an e-mail message we received yesterday together with a press release from Health and Human Services (see below).

A Family Medical History

We are fully in favor of people learning more about their family medical history. A history like this should outline the family structure and the relationships within the family and include information about diseases in family members. The family history is best recorded in the form of a family tree, or pedigree. It should use conventional symbols such as a square for a male, a circle for a female, and so on.

A medical family history should include all first degree relatives (parents and siblings), second degree relatives (aunts and uncles) and third degree relatives (cousins and grandparents), at the least.

Besides depicting familial relationships, a pedigree also must contain vital medical information such as the birth date, date of death, cause of death, health problems, and results of key medical tests.

Fumbling the Family History

We found the government's "My Family Health Portrait" laborious to download and get running. In the process we had to download another program and install it. Without recounting all the irritating problems we hit, let's just say it took too long. A good hour. Granted we are not the world greatest computer geeks, but still....