Genealogy Studies and Personal Health Records

Posted on December 2, 2015 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

If you ask around, you will hear that many people are interested in their genealogy studies and family history. I have even begun to dabble in it as well and it truly is fascinating. There are many apps and kits available to help people with this trend of building an online family tree with pictures and records. These studies have even expanded into DNA testing to show your true heritage and makeup.

Online personal health records (PHR) are also an important tool to keep track of your history but more in the sense of chronic conditions, surgical history, and medication records to be shared with your next provider. So if it’s so interesting to maintain a detailed history of who you are and how you came to be using genealogy, shouldn’t there also be more interest in maintaining online PHRs? After all, your family history does play a pretty significant part in your personal health.

Your family history is part of your medical record because sometimes looking to your family’s past can help healthcare providers better understand your diagnosis and predisposition. When studying your genealogy, you can find out the genetic conditions that may have led to an early death in some of your family members.  How your parents or siblings died can be very important when looking at hereditary issues.

It seems we in HIM have struggled for many years to promote PHR adoption but not for lack of trying on the part of healthcare providers. There have been several big initiatives pushing for healthcare consumers to keep an organized PHR with the latest push coming from Meaningful Use. We now have the technology and capabilities to collect and store healthcare data electronically which can easily be shared through electronic patient portals and HIE.

Patient portals allow patients to monitor their health conditions, lab results, and upcoming appointments. By educating patients on how to care for certain conditions or maintain a healthy lifestyle, patients are empowered to drive their own care. Patients should be at the center of all healthcare provided the same way someone is the main branch that begins a family tree. Perhaps we should follow along with the popularity of genealogy tools and applications and make PHR tracking easy and useful by using technology that links people together to share information. This may be more difficult with sensitive health information but proper authorization should allow owners of the information to share it as they please.

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