It is not finished yet.

The coronavirus has claimed more than 5 million lives worldwide and has exacerbated health problems. However, knowing your family’s medical history has always been important.

The holidays are approaching, and for those who will have the privilege of being with their family, discussions at the table on sport, politics and social issues are in order. This is also a good time to start asking (sometimes difficult) questions that could directly affect certain health decisions throughout your life.

Dr. Vipul Bhatia is the medical director of continuing care for WellSpan in central Pennsylvania. He specializes in internal medicine and said knowing your family’s medical history can be a role model for healthcare professionals.

“Family history can be used as a diagnostic tool and can also help guide decisions about any type of testing that the patient or the rest of the family will need. ”

Some diseases are hereditary and chronic. Being able to share this information with doctors can help them take preventative action faster. For example, 5 to 10% of breast cancer is thought to be hereditary, which means that they come from transmitted genes.

The pandemic, Bhatia said, has all but ruled out a must-have option for obtaining a family’s medical history. Normally it is recovered through group exercise with the patient and family members who are with them in the hospital. There are still restrictions on guests and hospital visits that let the patient answer some questions on their own. Knowing about a family’s health history “can shape the type of care an individual receives and when it is provided,” Bhatia said.

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Bhatia reflected on her own family’s health history, mentioning that a few members were diagnosed with colon cancer at a very young age.

“Someone with that kind of family history [means] the colon cancer screening procedure, such as a colonoscopy, begins at a younger age compared to the general population. ”

A delay in early screening could affect preventive measures and diagnosis, if any, due to this important family history.

Where to start

Here are a few things to keep in mind when asking about your family’s health history:

  • the age of your family members
  • the origin or racial origin of your family
  • the health and medical conditions of your parents and siblings, if applicable
  • at what age they were diagnosed
  • know the age and cause of death of deceased family members
  • know the pregnancy outcome of other women in the family

Don’t know how to keep track of all this information? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online resource for recording your family’s medical history. My family health portrait will allow you to capture information over time and keep it. It’s free, and you can update it, print it, and share it with your family.

Popular family history resources like and 23andMe exist, but it’s best to get the information firsthand from loved ones.

Another conversation to consider

No one really wants to have this conversation, but knowing someone’s last wishes or advanced care planning has become even more important during the pandemic. WellSpan calls the process “horizontal planning,” which involves putting a plan in place if you become too ill to make your own medical care decisions.

Communicating this plan to healthcare professionals can make a difference in the type of care you receive, Bhatia said.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a cultural journalist for the USA TODAY Network’s How We Live Atlantic Team. Contact her at or (717) 495-1789. Follow her on Facebook (@JasmineVaughnHall), Twitter (@ jvaughn411) and Instagram (@jasminevaughnhall).

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