The Holistic Genome

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Family History

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Family Medical History

As you gather with your family to give thanks, perhaps it is a good time to talk about the family tree and discuss your family’s medical history.

Some direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies try to argue that their services are a replacement for a family history.   I strongly disagree. 

However, I am always amazed at the lack of knowledge my patients have regarding their family’s medical history. I have rarely seen a compete and thorough family history documented in a primary care chart. 

Why is this?

Partly, busy primary care physician do not have the time it take to take a thorough family history. It takes on average 9 minutes, but average new appointment time is only 15-20 minutes.  

There is also the concern regarding the security of family member records being stored in a patient’s medical record. 

I have also noticed that this is because it just not discussed or family members are ashamed to discuss it, or the details get lost in translation.  A family history of ‘stomach cancer’ which was only revealed to be ‘ovarian cancer’ suddenly changes my approach in the setting of associated cancers such as Breast Cancer. The specifics on the type of cancer can very helpful.  I have at time resorted to getting death certificate documentation for the actual cause of death, when this is necessary.  A great service is call Vitalchek where your can order these documents electronically. 

There is also a great tool offered by the United State’s Surgeon General’s website that helps families input their family’s medical history and makes it downloadable and accessible.  

So, at this time of reflection, take a moment to share this with your family and have a discussion around the dinner table.  

Happy Thanksgiving!


Written by Jonathan Holt, DO

November 27, 2008 at 12:54 pm