On 25th November 2008, the US Surgeon General announced a major upgrade to their Family History Tool. It’s a part of the a national public health campaign, called the Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.

The web-based tool lets you create a complete family medical history including the closest family members and others like uncles, cousins, nephews, etc. Users can email or print this organized family history information for their family doctor, save to their own computer or share it with other family members (and let them contribute to it too). One can also save partial effort and then reload  it at a later time to complete.

Knowing a family medical history is important in screening for a great number of conditions (cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes; hypertension; osteoporosis; breast cancer, colorectal cancer to name a few). A surgeon general endorsed tool increases public awareness of gathering family medical history, no doubt. Especially useful is the ability to share your family health history with a relative, and letting them use it as a starting point to create their own family health history. It’s like ancestry.com for health – letting users discover and analyze health pedigree in a collaborative way. If this gains wide adoption, it can enable some fantastic national research on topics like manifestation of cancers across several generation and siblings (or atavistic phenomenon in general).

Jan 2009 Update: The version 2.0 of Family History tool is out. It has significant improvements like bidirectional integration with Microsoft Healthvault which is a popular Personal Health Record (PHR) platform. The tool now produces an XML file that can easily be integrated into Electronic Health Records (EHRs) of the provider organization. It is now white-labeled so that any care delivery organization can adopt and brand the tool for their use.