The traditional family tree represents branches of names from generations past. With Health IT, this image may sprout into something more complex to include family medical information. All too often, valuable family health information is not known and lost as part of a comprehensive health record. However, this information is vital as we advance in unlocking the human genome and identifying genetic markers as key predictors of disease. Realization of this problem has sparked the development of a new website, Health Heritage®, which will soon help people track generations of family health data.

Researchers at the University of Virginia received funding from the National Cancer Institute to enhance the Health Heritage® website. This site will enable family members to enter their family medical histories so that other family members and their health care professionals can use this information to help prevent and treat various medical issues. The Health Heritage® website will be built upon previous research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and will be available online free to consumers by 2012.

Health Heritage® will help capture specific diagnoses and ages of onset for every disease or condition that appears in first-, second-, and even third-degree relatives. The website is also being developed to be compatible with existing electronic health and personal health records- of course, with secure protection of personal health information.

As we move towards EHRs and PHRs, the sprouting of Health Heritage® brings up an important point: family health information is vital to a comprehensive health record, and it is only the patient/consumer who can derive this data. Health Heritage® will help people not only identify ancestors past, but also keep track of what conditions and diseases inflicted them. This data will assist patients and their medical providers; as patients take control of and report their family health information, physicians can use this readily available data to better manage their care.