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Collecting a Family History

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Importance of Collecting Patient Family Health History

A family health history (PDF) helps physicians and other health care practitioners provide better care for patients.

A properly collected family history can:

  • Identify whether a patient has a higher risk for a disease.
  • Help the health care practitioner recommend treatments or other options to reduce a patient’s risk of disease.
  • Provide early warning signs of disease.
  • Help plan lifestyle changes to keep the patient well. 

Types of Information to Be Included in Family History

A family history is a lifetime record that patients should provide to all their new physicians when receiving health care.

The history should be detailed (PDF), including:

  • First-, 2nd- and 3rd-degree relatives
  • Age for all relatives (age at time of death for the deceased)
  • Ethnicity (some genetic diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups)
  • Presence of chronic diseases

Patients can access the “My Family Health Portrait” to:

  • Enter their family health history.
  • Learn about their risk for conditions that can run in families.
  • Print their family health history to share with family or their health care provider.
  • Save their family health history so they can update it over time.

Family History and Prenatal/Pediatric Screening

Patient questionnaires can provide useful material to physicians who want to gather information from a couple either prior to pregnancy or during a pregnancy (PDF).  

Other questionnaires can help the health care professional get the necessary history of a child (PDF) in order to help with a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Watch "Family Health History Splainer"

From Geisinger Health System


Family Health History Splainer

Additional Resources for Patients

National Human Genome Research Institute: Patients can find a listing of online tools for generating a family history.

Disease InfoSearch: Patients can use this resource to learn more about the signs and symptoms of conditions, the latest research and how to access support.

Genetics Home Reference: Patients can look up information about the effects of genetic variations on human health.

Related AMA Links Text

Look up AMA’s comments, letters and other advocacy efforts on genetics and precision medicine in PolicyFInder, a database listing all of AMA’s positions and policies since its inception. 

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