Questions MAs Ask About Family History

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National Family Health History Day is scheduled this year for Nov. 24. Did you know that family health history is an important part of routine medical care? That's why, whenever you go to the doctor's office, medical assistants ask questions pertaining to your family health history.

"The first thing we discuss is which family members would classify as part of family history," said Elysia Cochran, Medical Assistant Program Director at Concorde's campus in Jacksonville, Fla. "This would include parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews."

We want all of our Concorde students, faculty, associates and alumni to be in the know about what information they need to provide medical assistant's when giving their family health history.

Following is what Michael Meyer, DO, Medical Assistant/Medical Office Administration Program Director at Concorde's campus in Orlando, Fla., had to say on the topic.

What are the most important questions medical assistants ask about a patient's family history?

"As we progress in modern medicine, it is increasingly important to understand genetic predisposition for disease," Meyer said. "For instance, breast cancer in first degree relatives is a significant risk factor for a patient to have breast cancer. Likewise, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary artery disease, liver failure or cirrhosis, kidney failure, any blood dyscrasia like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia are likewise important to note."

The more modern medicine recognizes the genetic transfer of both disease and risk factors for developing disease, the more important it is to document these risks in individual patients, Meyer said. Medical assistants can review health history forms done on intake on an initial visit to make sure the patient has thought about what problems have been diagnosed in a family. This can include aunts and uncles, or even grandparents, to better inform the doctor of potential health hazards that can be screened for or prevented by early intervention.

Cochran said she teaches Medical Assistants students to ask, have any family members been diagnosed with the following:

  • Mental illness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart problems
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Lung/breathing disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer's/dementia

Being reminded of diseases by medical assistants

Meyer said that, by reviewing your history with medical assistants, sometimes hearing a disease name will remind the patient that someone in his/her family has had that problem.

"Some autoimmune diseases like Lupus or scleroderma are so unusual that the lay person may not recognize them under the heading of autoimmune on the history form," he said. "Medical assistants can use the actual disease names to help the patient remember more accurately."

Part of a medical assistant description is thoroughly and accurately recording patients' family medical histories. The holiday season is a time to celebrate with family and discuss health issues that affect family members. By learning and documenting your own family health history, you are taking the first step in helping to ensure a longer, healthier future.

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