Building a Family Tree of Your Health

How many times have you been in this situation: You’re in a doctor’s office or emergency room hurriedly trying to fill out paperwork, or being interviewed by a physician about your family’s health history, searching your brain for the answers you once knew and have inconveniently forgotten at the most inopportune moment.  Quadruple that feeling if you have two small children asking you 500 billion questions at the same time.

How many of those times did you wish you had everything written down in an organized and concise manner so you wouldn’t have to wrack your brain trying to remember each and every ailment that has plagued your family?  (Oh, wouldn’t that be nice?)

Sometimes, I personally didn’t forget – I just didn’t know the answer.  After such situations, I would always resolve to find out answers from family members, but by the time I left the doctor’s office, I would forget once again.  And even if I did get around to asking, there really was no way of organizing it and for the right occasion.

So when Jordana from InheritedHealth approached me about reviewing their online health tool, I was more than intrigued.  You mean this is an actual possibility? It’s so simple and brilliant!  We’re living in the age of technology, so why not use it to our advantage in this capacity?  I have always found genetics, and family trees fascinating, so this was a perfect tool for me to test.

What is InheritedHealth‘s online health tool?  An online health resource that combines professional genetic guidance with personalized health information to improve your health.  Huh?  It’s basically an easy family health questionnaire that takes about 15 minutes to complete online (use real names or be as anonymous as you want to).  Not only is it a place to keep everything recorded, organized, stored and continually updated electronically, but it’s also a hereditary health risk assessment.  Based upon your answers, it calculates the probability for over 250 diseases and genetic disorders.  Use the end product, the Personal Health Guide, as something to discuss with your physician or a genetic counselor for possible screening and further testing, if necessary.

From the InheritedHealth Website:

We all have a family history of at least one hereditary disease. According to the US Surgeon General “knowing your family health history can save your life,” and about 96% of people know that their family health history is important to their health but less than 35% of people have tried to collect this information from their relatives. Even less people understand how to use this information to improve their health and that of their loved ones even though they are asked to complete family history questionnaires at virtually every doctor’s appointment.

This is why we created an easy to use Family Health History tool that allows families to archive and update their family health history together in a secure online fashion. None of us know all of the diseases in our family, so throughout the process, we provide ways for people to invite their relatives by email to fill in missing information or correct misinformation.

The inputted information is then analyzed by our proprietary hereditary risk assessment software to provide each participating family member with their own Personal Health Guide. In the Guide, family members will get information about the hereditary diseases they are more likely to get and pass down to their children as well as ways to lower these risks. We encourage families to print their Guide to share with their doctor so that he/she can deliver better quality care as well as amongst themselves so that everyone in the family can take steps towards better health.

Being proactive about your health in this manner can help you to not only become aware of a possible risk but also possibly eliminate it from developing in the first place.  For instance, if the assessment shows that you have a higher chance of developing adult onset diabetes, perhaps you could take preventative measures in your life now to reduce that probability and possibly save your life.  Something like this could possibly help your doctor to understand your family’s health history, narrowing down and pinpointing a particular ailment of yours faster.

And since it’s stored online, you can have access to it at any time, and even invite other family members to input missing familial information to make your family tree of health complete.  (Even my grandma gets on email and my in-laws on FaceBook, so I know they can do this. And don’t worry, the site says you will be able to limit the permissions and set the privacy level for each family member you invite.)  You or your invited members can update it anytime and as situations arise, as so often they do.

Once complete, this electronic record serves as a legacy that can be passed down in print form to your children for future generations.  (It’s also great to share at doctor’s offices and hospitals to avoid that dumbfounded look when they ask you an unexpected question at that most inopportune time.)

What else does InheritedHealth provide?  They have a blog discussing various health topics, phone consultations with certified genetic counselors (your insurance may even cover some of these costs!), and some features that are still forthcoming (it’s still in beta phase) – such as a family health tree, medical document storage (for easy access or sharing with health professionals), and a community forum for your health concerns.

The price?  The questionnaire is FREE to complete, but to receive the health risk assessment, it’s $19.99.  Think of it as one of the most valuable $20 you’ll ever spend to improve your health (we spend more than that eating once a restaurant).

There are a few limitations and kinks to work out, but then again it is still in beta and they are continually improving the site, so a lot of my issues will be obsolete.  Aside from the very minor “glitches” I encountered, here are my suggestions for possible future development:

  1. At the health assessment page, I wish there was a way to “correct’ a few of the assessments to be more accurate. For instance, if a family member has had a disorder of some type but you know it is not on your side of family and not affecting your personal gene pool, it would be nice to be able to remove that from the equation while still noting it on the family tree.  Or, like in my case, if you have had miscarriages that were not due to genetic disorders and you know the cause (low progesterone levels due to nursing another child at the time), it would be nice to “cross” that off the list as well or have it as an explanation so that a new physician can easily reference it.
  2. Many of the questionnaires you fill out at doctor’s offices go more in depth about your personal health, hospitalizations and so forth.  I would love to see some sort of uniform standard to these questionnaires, and that it would be included on InheritedHealth.  That way, you can avoid that portion of the paperwork at the office visit altogether.  Just print it off and hand it in to the front desk as you check-in. Better yet, maybe there could be a way to electronically send it to all of your physicians ahead of time.  Some sort of way to link it to all medical facilities?  Just input the names and basic info of your physicians and it automatically updates their file for you.  Now, no more calling the on-call physician at night only to hear, “Since I’m not your regular doctor, I don’t know your personal history.”  That would be great, though we’re still probably a long way from there.  I know one of my doctors and my son’s dentist has their entire “patient files” on their computers (eliminating all paperwork from their end and the patient’s end), so it’s not an impossible dream.

What better time than the holidays when family is gathered together to interrogate ask everyone about known health risks?  Most of us have never done this, so it should make for an interesting Thanksgiving table discussion!  Go print out the questionnaire and ask away.  What are you waiting for?  Check out the easy questionnaire today!

Check out InhertiedHealth on Twitter and on FaceBook as well.

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  1. 1

    This is an interesting review. I’ve heard of these programs but have resisted them. Although I can see its potential use, I suppose that I question putting personal medical information online, especially if medical insurance companies are involved. I would caution anyone against “genetic counseling.” After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I underwent the BRAC test after research the possible repercussions of genetic testing. I suppose if you are relatively healthy and simply want a record, then this would be a good choice, particularly for families.

  2. 2

    Krista, I am sorry to hear about your breast cancer diagnosis, and I pray that God is healing you completely if He hasn’t already.

    Actually, you don’t have to put in any of your personal info (such as real names and such).

    And there are no insurance companies involved. As far as I have researched, a person’s genetic information (if you do use genetic counseling,t hat is) is supposed to be federally safeguarded from health insurance discrimination.

    This website tool is more of a website for personal and family record-keeping. If you want to show your doctor, other family members, or whoever you please, that’s your choice. Information is never automatically shared.

    Though I am not one to be genetically counseled myself, I can see where there could be a few benefits (I even have a friend who has benefitted greatly from it). It’s important to note that assessing a risk does not mean a diagnosis. Even if you have a gene mutation found in genetic counseling, it doesn’t always mean that you will develop that disease or disorder, and you can try to prevent it from occurring in the first place a lot of times.

    I’m a big believer that God is in control, and that’s probably why I do not undergo counseling myself. :)


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