For this family portrait, you don’t even need a camera. All you need is a computer and some health history notes. The US Surgeon General and several agencies of the US Department of Health and Human Services are providing the public with a Web-based tool that allows families to create a family health portrait. It's called My Family Health Portrait.
While most of us know some of the diseases and disorders that run in our families, the majority of us have never taken the time to gather the information. A 2004 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 96% of Americans know that a family health history is important. However, only 33% have one.
Through this new tool, one family member can create a master document that can be shared among other family members. Starting with yourself, you fill in the details of your own health, then add information on your immediate family—your parents, grandparents, siblings and children. The tool creates a chart listing your family members by name, with columns indicating who has had certain diseases and their age at diagnosis. It also creates a graphical representation of several generations, highlighting diseases that appear from one generation to the next. The diseases given include several types of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Although hemophilia and other bleeding disorders are not listed, you can identify them in the “additional diseases” column or as a “highlighted disease” in the graphical report.
[Steps for Living: Family Life]
Another feature of the software is that it re-indexes information. If you create the document, then send it to your brother in Boston, for instance, the software automatically re-indexes the information, putting your brother at the center and showing the correct
family relationships to him.
The purpose of the portrait is to help predict diseases and disorders for which family members might be at risk, so you can be proactive about your health. You can take hard copies of the chart and graphical representation to your physician for further discussion and follow-up testing, if needed. The health portrait tool is free to all users, and information is confidential—stored on your computer only. Start discussing your family’s health issues now and take on a new role—family health historian.