It is time to reconsider the clinical benefits arising from family history and start making better use of it
A patient’s family history may aid clinical diagnosis and contribute to disease risk assessment and prediction. It frequently yields valuable social history, including information about family support structures and insights into individual beliefs about illness.1 Although taking family history is traditionally regarded as a routine part of the medical history, it is not used in a systematic way in clinical practice. In this issue of the Journal, Langlands and colleagues report the results of an audit in an Australian teaching hospital, which found that nearly three-quarters of patients admitted to a short-stay medical unit had no documentation of family history having been considered as part of the diagnostic assessment.2 A similar situation exists in primary care. Although there are no published comparable data from Australian general practice, a primary care study in the United States found that only 16% of subjects (n = 362) had any record of their family history in their clinical chart, including 15 individuals at high risk of an inherited cancer syndrome.3
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