The Acquisition and Utility of the Family Medical History in Primary Care: A Cross-Sectional Study


Background: Acquisition of family medical history (FMH) is emphasized as a part of obtaining a complete medical history, but whether FMH is consistently documented and utilized in primary care, as well as how it can affect patient care in this context, remains unclear. Thus, the objectives of this study were to determine: 1) if FMH is regularly acquired in a representative primary care practice (the Queen’s Family Health Team, QFHT); 2) what is included in the FMH obtained; 3) what the utility of FMH is with regards to patient management in primary care; and 4) to utilize healthcare practitioners’ perspectives in order to elucidate any findings regarding the acquisition and utility of FMH at the QFHT. Methods: Patients were interviewed in order to obtain their FMH. For each patient, the FMH obtained was compared to the FMH documented in the patient’s record to determine the record’s completeness. Each patient’s FMH was analyzed for significant history of coronary artery disease (CAD), diabetes mellitus type II (DMII), substance abuse (SA) and colorectal cancer (CRC). Participants were patients scheduled for appointments at the QFHT between May and July 2011. Any patient of the QFHT older than 25 years was eligible to participate. Clinical staff of the QFHT completed an online questionnaire to determine healthcare practitioners’ perspectives regarding the acquisition and utility of FMH. Results: 83 patients participated in the study. Participants ranged in age from 25 - 86 years (median: 63 years); 69% were female. FMH present in patients’ records was often either incomplete (42% of charts reviewed) or not documented at all (51% of charts reviewed). Knowledge of FMH can affect patient management in primary care for the diseases assessed (CAD, DMII, SA and CRC). HCP do consider FMH to be important in clinical practice and 86% of respondents stated that they regularly inquired about patients’ FMH. Interpretation: Despite the belief by HCP that FMH is important, there is a disparity between this belief and their practices regarding its documentation and utilization. Finally, analysis of the FMH of the representative population studied shows that information commonly missing in patients’ FMH can affect patient management at a primary care level.

Share and Cite:

Abate, A. and Hall-Barber, K. (2014) The Acquisition and Utility of the Family Medical History in Primary Care: A Cross-Sectional Study. Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4, 760-770. doi: 10.4236/ojpm.2014.410086.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Bennet, R.L. (1999) Practical Guide to the Genetic Family History. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
[2] Wilson, B.J., Qureshi, N., Santaguida, P., Little, J., Carroll, J.C., Allanson, J., et al. (2009) Systematic Review: Family History in Risk Assessment for Common Diseases. Annals of Internal Medicine, 151, 878-885.
[3] Berg, A.O., Baird, M.A., Botkin, J.R., Driscoll, D.A., Fishman, P.A., Guarino, P.D., et al. (2009) National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference Statement: Family History and Improving Health. Annals of Internal Medicine, 151, 872-877.
[4] Giles, J.T., Kennedy, D.T., Dunn, E.C., Wallace, W.L., Meadows, S.L. and Cafiero, A.C. (2001) Results of a Community Pharmacy-Based Breast Cancer Risk-Assessment and Education Program. Pharmacotherapy, 21, 243-253.
[5] Kadison, P., Pelletier, E.M., Mounib, E.L., Oppedisano, P. and Poteat, H.T. (1998) Improved Screening for Breast Cancer Associated with a Telephone-Based Risk Assessment. Preventive Medicine, 27, 493-501.
[6] Yoon, P.W., Scheuner, M.T., Jorgensen, C. and Khoury, M.J. (2009) Developing Family Healthware, a Family History Screening Tool to Prevent Common Chronic Diseases. Preventing Chronic Disease, 6, A33.
[7] McPherson, R., Frohlich, J., Fodor, G. and Genest, J. (2006) Canadian Cardiovascular Society Position Statement—Recommendations for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Dyslipidemia and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 22, 913-927.
[8] Canadian Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee (2008) Canadian Diabetes Association 2008 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 32, S1.
[9] Hershfield, N.B., et al. (2004) Canadian Association of Gastroenterology and the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation: Guidelines on Colon Cancer Screening. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, 18, 93-99.
[10] Webster, L.R. and Webster, R.M. (2005) Predicting Aberrant Behaviors in Opioid-Treated Patients: Preliminary Validation of the Opioid Risk Tool. Pain Medicine, 6, 432-442.
[11] Primary Care Reform—A National Overview (2006).

Copyright © 2022 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.