A Web site called Health Heritage provides a uniform and accurate database of a person's health-related history making it easier to keep track of a family's medical history.
Researchers at the University of Virginia enhaced the website for enabling family members to enter their family medical histories so that other family members and their health care professionals can use this information while dealing with medical issues.
The new Web site, which will be free to consumers and build on previous research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is expected to be online by 2012.
Virtually all diseases have an inherited component and new tests can determine whether your genes put you at risk for disorders such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes or arthritis.
While genetic tests are useful, they must be considered in the context of a family's particular medical history.
Carrying a gene that predisposes you to have a heart attack is only one piece of the puzzle, the other is what scientists call the gene's "expression"-a measure of how influential that gene is in your body.
Genetic research has shown that the best family medical history includes specific diagnoses and ages of onset for every disease or condition that appears in first- and second-degree relatives and even in some third-degree relatives.
But this information is not readily available, and here comes Health Heritage into the picture.
If your mother is diagnosed with diabetes and you wonder about your own risk, all you have to do is to create an account in Health Heritage and enter your personal and known family health information.
Health Heritage can also, at your discretion, collect diagnoses and age of onset information about you and your relatives electronically using secure links to verifiable sources. You will then receive personalized recommendations.
Health Heritage is also being developed to be compatible with existing electronic health and personal health records.
But it will have protections, now enabled by law, that will prohibit your employers and health insurance companies from seeing that information.
Over time, this reservoir of health information will become a living legacy for your children and grandchildren. It will help to personalize preventive health measures and medical treatments for everyone in your family.
While being a computer program, it can never replace the skilled judgment of an experienced medical practitioner or expert genetic team, but given the constant flow of new genetic information, Health Heritage is an easy way for individuals and medical professionals to keep up with the latest developments that might have an impact on your health.
Researchers are expecting that Health Heritage will not only encourage families to build mutually beneficial family histories but also that family members will recognize the value of maintaining and controlling their own medical records