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Director's Comments Transcript: Family Health Portrait 12/29/2008

Picture of Dr. Lindberg

Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine substituting this week for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.

To listen to Dr. Lindberg's comments, click herelisten

It's the time of the year when many families are together to enjoy the blessings of the season. One free -- but valuable -- gift you might give to yourself and your family members this year is to complete a family health portrait.

A family health portrait is very helpful to you and your health care provider -- regardless if you are old friends, or strangers. The reason is many common diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and some rare diseases, such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia, tend to run in families.

Since early detection and treatment improves your chances of recovery and quality of life, a family health portrait helps you alert a provider of a potential problem. Let's call it an early alert system that you can provide to help your physician assist you -- and others in your family.

About 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family health history is important, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Surgeon General's office. However, only about one-third of Americans take the time to create a health history of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

The Surgeon General wants to ease the process to create a family history and now provides a streamlined website, called 'My Family Health Portrait,' which you can use to enter family health information.

To find the Surgeon General's health portrait website, just type 'my family health portrait' in any Internet search engine, such as Google or Yahoo. Then, click on 'my family health portrait home page,' or type the URL '' in your favorite browser.

Once at the site, you will discover a series of pages that are straightforward to complete. The first page asks you to fill in your name, age, gender, height, and weight.

After this, you are asked to fill in information, such as how many sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, half sister, and half brothers, you have.

You select the disease or diseases (that run in your family) that you believe should be tracked or watched. While there is a provided list of major diseases including: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers, you can add others.

Then, you are asked whether you have experienced what you selected and the age when you were diagnosed. The same input is repeated for your mother, mother's mother, mother's father, father, father's mother and father's father.

By the way, you control the information and its release.

While you may already know some of this information, it is often helpful to obtain it directly from other family members. This is why family gatherings, such as during this year's holiday season, may be a good time to inquire.

If your family understands your motive is to boost everybody's health -- and make it easier for a physician or nurse to help -- it makes the process more caring than intrusive.

Once finished, you can print it out and take it to a health care provider, or send it electronically. You can easily make copies to share with other family members, if you wish.

The family health portrait is available in English and Spanish.

Incidentally, I know an English speaking family in Southern California that uses a clinic where much of the staff is more comfortable in Spanish. So, the family filled out a family health portrait in English and then, in Spanish and took it to the clinic to be placed in their records. Family members were thanked many times by the nurses and physicians during subsequent visits. But the effort paid unexpected dividends during the holidays last year when a visiting family member needed an ambulance and urgent care. The clinic's emergency medical technicians, who spoke better Spanish than English already, had some helpful family health history information when they showed up to assist.

Besides the Surgeon General's site, also provides a family history health topic page that adds more background information on why a family health history is advisable – and provides other, helpful resources.

In addition to the link I provided earlier, an additional gateway to the Surgeon General's family health portrait is in the 'health check tools' section of's family history health topic page.

In addition, the 'health check tools' section contains a more comprehensive explanation about why it is important to know your family health history, which is provided by Genetics Home Reference, a sister website to MedlinePlus.'s family history health topic page also provides a good link (and reminder) to know your child's medical history, provided by the Nemours Foundation, which is in the 'children' section.

Other helpful links on the site include an overview of inheritance and health, called: 'Does it run in the family: A guide to Family Health History' that is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration and by Genetic Alliance. This resource is in the 'overviews' section.

You can find MedlinePlus' family history health topic page by typing 'family history' in the search box on's home page. Then, click on 'family history (National Library of Medicine).'

Our congratulations if you are among the one-third of American families that have prepared a family health history. We urge others to join; it is an inexpensive, thoughtful, and practical way to wish your family better health care in the future.

Also, I want to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy New Year. The National Library of Medicine and the 'Director's Comments' podcast staff, including Dr. Lindberg, appreciate your interest and company -- and we hope to find new ways to serve you in 2009.

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