Developing Family Healthware, a Family History Screening Tool to Prevent Common Chronic Diseases

Published In: Preventing Chronic Disease, v. 6, no. 1, Jan. 2009, p. 1-11

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2009

by Paula W. Yoon, Maren T. Scheuner, Cynthia Jorgensen, Muin J. Khoury

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Family health history reflects the effects of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors and is an important risk factor for a variety of disorders including coronary heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed Family Healthware, a new interactive, Web-based tool that assesses familial risk for 6 diseases (coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colorectal, breast, and ovarian cancer) and provides a ?prevention plan? with personalized recommendations for lifestyle changes and screening. The tool collects data on health behaviors, screening tests, and disease history of a person?s first- and second-degree relatives. Algorithms in the software analyze the family history data and assess familial risk based on the number of relatives affected, their age at disease onset, their sex, how closely related the relatives are to each other and to the user, and the combinations of diseases in the family. A second set of algorithms uses the data on familial risk level, health behaviors, and screening to generate personalized prevention messages. Qualitative and quantitative formative research on lay understanding of family history and genetics helped shape the tool?s content, labels, and messages. Lab-based usability testing helped refine messages and tool navigation. The tool is being evaluated by 3 academic centers by using a network of primary care practices to determine whether personalized prevention messages tailored to familial risk will motivate people at risk to change their lifestyles or screening behaviors.

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