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More on Family History Day: Creating Health Records

Family History Day: Creating Health Records

Breaking News - November 2005 - Week 4

(Nov 23, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- The office of the US Surgeon General has launched a national public health campaign called the US Surgeon General's Family History Initiative.

Picture of an African-American family

US Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona has declared Thanksgiving 2005 to be the second annual National Family History Day.

To help focus attention on the importance of family health history, Surgeon General Carmona, in cooperation with other agencies within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has launched this campaign to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.

Families Share Health Information

Health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases - heart disease, cancer, and diabetes - and even rare diseases - like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia - can run in families.

If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure.

Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.

In addition to the Office of the Surgeon General, other HHS agencies involved in this project include the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

National Family History Day

Thanksgiving is the traditional start of the holiday season for most Americans.

Whenever families gather, the Surgeon General encourages them to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family's health history may help ensure a longer future together.

Americans know that family history is important to health. A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important.

Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history.

My Family Health Portrait

Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the US Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool to help make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family's health.

This new, revised version of the tool, called My Family Health Portrait is a web-enabled program that runs on any computer that is connected to the web and running an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser.

The new version of the tool offers numerous advantages over last year’s version, which had to be downloaded to the user’s computer, but only those running the Microsoft Windows operating system.

The web-based tool helps users organize family history information and then print it out for presentation to the family physician.

In addition, the tool helps users save their family history information to their own computer and even share family history information with other family members.

The US Surgeon General makes the tool freely available to all users. No user information is saved on any computer of the US federal government.

When a person is finished organizing family history information, the tool will create and print out a graphical representation of a family's generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next.

That is a powerful tool for predicting any illnesses for which you should be checked.

Always consult your physician for more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

AHRQ on Health Plans

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

My Family Health Portrait

My Family Health Portrait FAQ

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

National Women's Health Information Center

US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

US Surgeon General

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.

Health Plans a Focus in November

If you are puzzled by point-of-service health insurance options or dumbfounded by deductibles, you are in good company.

Few Americans really understand the different health plan alternatives available to them or their cost-sharing requirements.

"I think the whole thing is a mystery to everyone," says Paula Wilson, an Orange County, Calif.-based insurance agent who counsels individuals and businesses that buy health insurance for their workers.

By boning up on the basics, people can become wise consumers of health benefits.

First of all, individuals need to know whether they want to be in a traditional indemnity plan, which allows them to see any physician they choose, or a managed care plan, which may restrict access to a select network of providers, Wilson says.

Both types of insurance have certain advantages and tradeoffs. With indemnity coverage, for example, the enrollee has the option to buy a high-deductible plan, which will lower his or her monthly premium.

For those buying their own health insurance policy, that can be a significant consideration.

On the other hand, the person who chooses an indemnity - or "fee-for-service" - plan will incur higher out-of-pocket expenses than someone in a tightly controlled managed care plan.

That is the price people pay for the freedom to choose any doctor or hospital, Wilson explains.

Ultimately, the choices persons make are highly individual, but Wilson notices some general patterns.

"If it's a young person, they go straight for costs," she says. "If it's an older person that wants to go to their [own] doctor, it's freedom."

Enrolling in a health maintenance organization (HMO) is one way to keep out-of-pocket costs down. These plans typically do not require members to meet a deductible or pay co-insurance - a percentage of the cost of a service - if patients stay within the HMO's provider network.

Usually, HMO members make only nominal co-payments on certain services they receive. In 2004, the typical co-payment for a physician office visit through an HMO was $15, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Educational Trust survey.

"It's my experience that young families flock to the HMOs purely for costs," Wilson notes. Their choice is often based on the frequency of their doctor visits.

"They have young children; they live at the pediatrician," she says.

Persons who want to see any health care provider they wish often go for a preferred provider organization, or PPO. This model of insurance gives consumers a choice of using a provider in the PPO network or going outside the network for services.

Out-of-network services cost a little more, but that is a tradeoff that many folks can live with.

"A person who travels a lot will take the PPO," comments Wilson, because he or she will not want to have to call the HMO for permission to see a physician.

Others may opt for a point-of-service (POS) plan, which melds the lower costs of an HMO with the flexibility of a PPO. As with an HMO, point-of-service enrollees must choose a primary care provider from a network of contracting providers.

But if they want to see physicians and specialists outside of the network, they can. There is usually a deductible and co-insurance on care received out of network.

Of course, cost is not the sole consideration. Someone who suffers from a pre-existing health condition may want to choose the plan that their physician participates in, regardless of the cost.

Always consult your physician for more information.

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