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Feature Article Take Stock of Your Family's Health History

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As you gather with your family during the upcoming holiday season, consider asking your relatives a few “nosy questions” about their health, such as:  Have you ever had any serious or chronic illnesses? What diseases did our deceased relatives have? 

There are many diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes, stroke and mental illness that run in families. Taking early action can help you stay healthy. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and the Office of the Surgeon General encourage families to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to talk about health conditions that might be genetic. 

In addition to tracking your own health, a family history can be important for young adults who are interested in starting a family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report some genetic diseases such as sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis have carrier screenings, so parents can learn if they are at risk for having a child with an inherited disease.

The most important people to talk to are your immediate family: parents, siblings and your own children. Grandparents and aunts and uncles you’re chatting with during the holidays could also have relevant information. These conversations help create a clearer picture of what might be running in your family. 

For more tips and tools, visit hhs.gov/FamilyHistory. You’ll find links to what kinds of questions you should be asking, information about the family health initiative and an online family health portrait tool. This site can help you gather information, but it does not link it to your medical record or share it with your health care provider. To make the most of your hard work, consider filling out this family health history form and taking it to your provider. Your provider will be able to compile the information into MyChart, Samaritan’s electronic medical record, where you can see of it. 

Using electronic medical records is a great way to keep track of your own health, especially if you have complicated medical needs. You may also consider giving access to your medical record to an adult child or other trusted individual who can help you stay on top of your health concerns. 

However you manage the information, the most important thing is open communication. So when you ask your Nana to please pass the cranberry sauce, start a critical conversation about health. It beats having the discussion turn to politics! 

Learn how to use MyChart at an upcoming seminar. In addition to managing the care of your loved ones, MyChart offers many convenient online tools to help you manage your health as noted in this infographic.