A medical family tree, also known as family medical history, maps and records illnesses, conditions, and so much more that can come in handy throughout your lifetime. We’ll walk through the steps of how to gather information for your history and how to have those tough conversations with your family about medical history.
Importance of Gathering Health History
Compiling your family medical history is essential. When you have a history of medical issues laid out, it provides not only your family with vital information but your providers with useful facts to help understand your risk for a disease.
Why is a Medical Tree Used?
Everyone inherits a genetic profile comprised of a set of characteristics from each parent that make up the unique DNA of an individual. This genetic material allows you to have information about the potential risk for diseases or medical conditions. If a particular characteristic happens to be passed down, your family medical history can help reveal these patterns so that you are more aware of your health throughout your lifetime. .
8 ways a doctor might use a medical tree:
- Assess risk for diseases or maladies
- Assess risk for passing on disease or conditions
- Recommend change to lifestyle to reduce the risk of illness or certain conditions
- Decide which diagnostic tests to use
- Decide what screening is best
- Decide if your family should have their genetics tested
- Find an ailment that might not be known to your family
- Identify others in your family who may be at risk of disease or conditions
Note: While medical history can help predict risk for the future, it only allows for information, so other components like diet, weight, exercise, and environmental factors can all play a role in a person developing diseases or conditions.
How to Create Your Family Medical History
In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General marked Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. So, it’s time to gather up your family and work together to create your family medical history. While this might seem like a massive project, try doing it on a holiday (like Thanksgiving) or a reunion where you’ll be around a lot of people. We suggest using My Family Health Portrait, an online tool created by the U.S. Surgeon General. You can also use other apps like Capzule or My Medical Records to help track your health history. Beyond apps and online sites, you can also design your own on a computer or paper document.
Start by gathering information from every member of your family. It’s important to include information from anyone who is your first, second, and third-degree relatives.
Who to Include in Your Family History:
Note: If you don’t have an answer to a question, don’t guess, mark it ‘not available.’
Information You’ll Want in Your History:
- Date of Birth
- Medical conditions
- Mental health conditions
- Any alcoholism or substance abuse
- Pregnancy complications
- Miscarriages, stillbirths, congenital disabilities, or infertility
- Lifestyle habits
- Diet, exercise, or tobacco use
- Deceased Relatives: Date of death, age at the time of death, and cause of death
Note: If you were adopted, ask adoptive parents if they ever had medical information about your birth parents, or ask if the adoption agency has information. For those who have an open adoption, you may be able to discuss medical history with your biological family directly.
How to Have Those Tough Conversations About Health
Some of your family and loved ones might feel a bit uncomfortable talking about personal medical information. If you have a family member who isn’t quite sure they want to share information, you can share your purpose, answer any questions they may have, give several formats for answering questions (conversation, phone, email, etc.), be a good listener, and ultimately respect their privacy when it comes to medical history.
Family Health at Voyage Healthcare
At Voyage Healthcare we’re here to help you every step of the way, whether it’s through inpatient or outpatient care. When you’ve completed your family health history, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your provider to discuss the next steps moving forward.
When you talk about your health history with your provider, you’ll gain up-to-date information about your health and how you can prepare for preventative measures. Schedule an appointment with us today!