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Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, came to Francis Street this week for the national public launch of the U.S. Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait” and to announce BWH’s leadership role in piloting the updated Web-based tool—an initiative that may contribute to reshaping the future of health care and strengthening personalized medicine.
“We’re delighted to have such a remarkable institution be the first out of the gate,” said Collins, who joined BWH President Gary Gottlieb, MD, MBA, Cynthia Morton, PhD, and Rick Mitchell, MD, PhD, for the public unveiling in Carrie Hall on Tuesday. “This project offers all of us a chance to make medicine more personalized.”
The Brigham and Women’s Family History Project kicked off within the BWH community last week. Employees who choose to participate will record their family health histories using “My Family Health Portrait.” Participants are encouraged to share with their primary care providers this information, which will help them receive the best health care possible and could even save their life or the life of a family member.
“Family history is one of the most powerful ways to personalize medical care,” Collins said. “It is the bedrock of the way in which we predict risk of disease and the way in which we keep people well.”
The project is a dream come true for Morton, director of Cytogenetics at BWH, whose idea to ask the BWH community’s participation helped the hospital to receive the country’s only grant for the pilot project. “As a medical geneticist, I know well the fundamental role of family medical histories in health care,” Morton said.
Mitchell, a BWH cardiovascular pathologist and father of two, truly grasps the magnitude of the project and the importance of knowing his family health history after being diagnosed last year with colon cancer. “I felt devastated,” he said. “But I felt even worse for my son and daughter. The nature of my particular cancer is that my children are likely at greater risk themselves.”
The “My Family Health Portrait” tool empowers families, like the Mitchells, to take control of their health by knowing their risks for hereditary diseases and informing their doctors, who can conduct preventive tests and screenings. “A little knowledge can be immensely powerful in helping my son and daughter proactively prevent diseases,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully, knowing my history will help them avoid the cancer surgery I faced last February.”
In addition to providing employees with this life-saving opportunity, BWH is playing a larger role in this project to help refine and improve the Web-based tool. Through November 2006, the BWH project team, led by Michael Murray, MD, clinical chief in the Division of Genetics, will ask participants to complete a voluntary survey about their experience using the tool, obstacles they faced and how they used their family health history information. This feedback will help health care providers understand how to better incorporate this important information into medical care.
Employees who would like to participate in the Brigham and Women’s Family History Project soon will be able to use computer kiosks set up in the hospital to access the tool and receive guidance from a BWH Family History Project team member or genetic counselor. Employees also may complete their family history in the privacy of their own homes by computer or on paper forms available throughout the hospital.
Collins reported that Dr. Richard Carmona, the U.S. Surgeon General, declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day, and encouraged families to use this time together to complete their family medical histories. The BWH medical genetics team sends Thanksgiving wishes to all members of the BWH family, and hopes that families will take a few moments to support their health as they give thanks together next week.
For more information on the Family History Project, visit www.bwhpikenotes.org or access the tool directly at http://familyhistory.hhs.gov