NIH to Hold Conference on Family History

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People who have family members with certain diseases are more likely to develop those diseases themselves. Indeed, many common disorders, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, have genetic, environmental, behavioral and lifestyle causes that are shared between family members and together contribute to an individual’s risk for developing disease.

A family health history is a written or graphic record of these factors and includes information on diseases and health conditions of biological relatives, the age at diagnosis, and the age and cause of death of deceased family members. Family health history information collected from patients has long been used by healthcare providers in the U.S. as a risk assessment tool, and has gained renewed attention with efforts in personalized medicine. Americans recognize the importance of family history to health. A recent survey found an overwhelming 96% of respondents believe their family history is important for their own health; nevertheless, only 30% have actively collected health information from their relatives to develop a family history [1].

Despite the widespread and longstanding use of family health history, important questions regarding the effectiveness of family history information for disease prediction and improvement of health outcomes remain.

NIH State-of-the-Science Conference: Family History and Improving Health


On August 24-26, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the Office of Medical Applications of Research (OMAR) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will convene a State-of-the-Science conference on Family History and Improving Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The purpose of the conference is to develop a consensus statement that advances the issue of family history by assessing the available scientific evidence related to the use and effectiveness of family history information for predicting and improving patient health outcomes.

This free conference is intended for physicians, researchers and allied health personnel interested in family history and improving health, as well as interested members of the public, and will address the following questions:

  • What are the key elements of a family history in a primary care setting for the purposes of risk assessment for common diseases?
  • What is the accuracy of family history, and under what conditions does the accuracy vary?
  • What is the direct evidence that getting a family history will improve health outcomes for the patient and/or family?
  • What is the direct evidence that getting a family history will result in adverse outcomes for the patient and/or family?
  • What are the factors that encourage or discourage obtaining and using a family history?
  • What are the future research directions for assessing the value of family history for common diseases in the primary care setting?

Invited experts will present information pertinent to these issues, and a systematic literature review will be summarized. You can either attend the conference in person or register to watch a live Webcast. During open discussion periods, both in-person and remote Webcast conference attendees will have time to ask questions and provide statements. On the final day of the conference, after weighing the scientific evidence, an unbiased, independent panel will prepare and present a consensus statement addressing the six key conference questions listed above.

A comprehensive agenda and additional details can be found on the conference Web page.

If you are unable to view the live Webcast, an archived version will be available approximately one week after the conference.

I encourage you to register, attend the conference on Monday, August 24th – Wednesday, August 26th, and take part in the discussion. Please tell friends and colleagues. Using this link, you can quickly and easily e-mail conference info.

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  1. Awareness of family health history as a risk factor for disease–United States, 2004. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004 Nov 12;53(44):1044-7.
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About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.