Original Research

Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 384-392

Genetic Counselors’ Current Use of Personal Health Records-Based Family Histories in Genetic Clinics and Considerations for Their Future Adoption

  • Chaney WidmerAffiliated withVirginia Commonwealth University Email author 
  • , Jonathan P. DeShazoAffiliated withVirginia Commonwealth University
  • , Joann BodurthaAffiliated withJohns Hopkins University
  • , John QuillinAffiliated withVirginia Commonwealth University
  • , Heather CreswickAffiliated withVirginia Commonwealth University

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Given the widespread adoption of electronic medical records and recent emergence of electronic family history tools, we examined genetic counselors’ perspectives on the emerging technology of the personal health record (PHR)-based family history tool that links to an electronic medical record (EMR). Two-hundred thirty-three genetic counselors responded to an on-line survey eliciting current use of electronic family history (EFH) tools and familiarity with PHR-based family history tools. Additionally, after being shown a series of screen shots of a newly developed PHR-based family history tool based on the U.S. Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait (United States Department of Health and Human Services 2009), participants were surveyed about the perceived usefulness, ease of use, and impact on current workflow that this kind of tool would have in their practices. Eighty-three percent reported that their institution has an EMR, yet only 35 % have a dedicated space for family history. Eighty-two percent reported that less than 5 % of their patients have a PHR, and only 16 % have worked with patients who have a PHR. Seventy-two percent or more agreed that a PHR-based family history tool would facilitate communication, increase accuracy of information, ensure consistency in recording information, increase focus on actual counseling, reduce repetitive questions, improve efficiency, and increase the legibility and clarity. Our findings suggest that participants were familiar with existing EFH tools, but that the majority did not use them in practice. Genetic counselors’ adoption of such tools is limited due to non-existence of this kind of technology or inability to integrate it into their clinics. They are also strongly in favor of adopting a PHR-based family history tool in genetics clinics, but have practical concerns that must be addressed before the tool can be implemented.


Electronic medical record Electronic health record Patient portal Family history Pedigree Electronic family history tool