Family history questions are important. Here is how

It’s not over yet.

The coronavirus has cost more than 5 million lives worldwide and heightened health concerns. However, it was always important to know your family’s health history.

The holidays are just around the corner and for those who have the privilege of being with family, table chats on sports, politics and social issues are a given. It’s also a good time to ask (sometimes difficult) questions that could directly affect certain health choices in your life.

Dr. Vipul Bhatia is the Medical Director of Continuous Care for WellSpan in central Pennsylvania. He specializes in internal medicine and said knowing your family’s health history can be a blueprint for healthcare professionals.

“The family history can be used as a diagnostic tool and can also serve as a decision-making aid for any type of test that the patient or the rest of the family may need.”

Certain diseases are hereditary and chronic. The ability to share this information with doctors can help them take preventive measures sooner. For example 5% to 10% of Breast cancer is considered hereditarywhich means they come from genes passed down.

The pandemic, Bhatia said, nearly eliminated an option to preserve a family’s health history. It is usually accessed through a group exercise with the patient and family members who are with them in the hospital. As before, there are guest and visit restrictions in hospitals, which leave patients alone to answer certain questions. Knowledge of family history “can affect the type of care the person receives and when it is received,” Bhatia said.

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Reflecting on his own family’s health history, Bhatia mentioned that some members were diagnosed with colon cancer at a very young age.

“Someone with that kind of family history [means] colorectal cancer screening, such as a colonoscopy, begins at a younger age compared to the general population. ”

Delaying early screenings because of this strong family history could affect preventive measures and a possible diagnosis.

Where to start

Here are a few things to keep in mind when asking about your family’s medical history:

  • the ages of the members in your family
  • Your family’s origin or racial background
  • the health status and health of your parents and siblings, if any
  • what age they were diagnosed at
  • Knowledge of the age and cause of death of deceased family members
  • Knowledge of pregnancy outcomes of other women in the family

Not sure how to keep track of all of this information? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online resource on how to record your family’s health history. Health portrait of my family allows you to enter and save information over time. It’s free and you can update it, print it out, and share it with your family.

There are popular family history resources such as and 23andMe, but it is preferred to get firsthand information from relatives.

Another conversation to think about

Nobody really wants to have this conversation, but knowing a person’s final desires or predictive care planning has become even more important during the pandemic. WellSpan calls the process “horizon planning,” which means having a plan when you get too sick to make your own medical decisions.

Sharing this plan with healthcare professionals can make a difference in the type of care you get, Bhatia said.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a cultural reporter for the Atlantic Region How We Live team on the USA TODAY Network. Contact them at [email protected] or (717) 495-1789. Follow her on Facebook (@JasmineVaughnHall), Twitter (@ jvaughn411) and Instagram (@jasminevaughnhall).

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