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Have yourself a healthy little holiday

The holidays are upon us. In between the chaos of shopping, meal planning, and maybe some traveling, the holidays are a time for us to connect with those we love. And for some of us, this is the time of year we are surrounded by family we rarely see.

Generally, gift-giving is a part of these connections. But, what if instead of the latest gadget, gizmo, or gift card, this year you asked for the gift of health? Simply by discussing the health history of your family members, you can learn more about your own health risks and find ways to reduce them.

We talked with Andy Peiffer, MD, a family medicine doctor at Men’s Health Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, about the important questions we should ask when it comes to our health.

Traditional family history

At the top of the list is simply asking about what conditions or diseases your family members have.

“It is most important to ask about the health status of close relatives like brothers and sisters, Mom and Dad,” Dr. Peiffer says, “but don’t forget about extended relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

He further explains the importance of “clarifying diagnosis like ‘heart problems’ and ‘cancer’ to specific diagnoses like heart attack and colon cancer” in order to ensure you are getting the right screening. In addition, the relative’s age at diagnosis is important to determine if a disease is more likely to have a genetic link. If you have relatives who have died of certain diseases or conditions, especially at a young age, it’s important to document those details, too.

My Family Health Portrait is a free tool provided by the Centers for Disease Control that can help you record your family history.

Tracking medication use

Dr. Peiffer suggests discussing not only medical history but treatment history with your family. “If I have a patient with depression who says their brother and father were successfully treated with a certain drug, I take that into account,” he says. Knowing what medications worked, didn’t work, and which caused negative side effects for family members can help your doctor choose the best medication for you, too. At the very least, you should keep track of your medications, including dosages.

Using technology

The use of technology to enhance wellness and wellbeing has increased dramatically over the past decade. “Things like wearables and data trackers are valuable tools that we as providers can use— the information is provided in an easy-to-read format,” says Dr. Peiffer.

He suggests not only discussing these tools with your family, but asking your provider about their openness in using this type of technology in your health care. “These types of tools allow patients to partner with their providers,” says Dr. Peiffer, emphasizing that physicians should embrace new tools that strengthen the doctor-patient partnership.

Integrating health data

But how do you quickly and easily integrate all your health information? Luckily, there’s an app for that!

The mobile app enables you and your family to upload and track many aspects of your personal health information. The app is secure, easy to use, and its intuitive format allows you to take a “medical selfie” to begin the journey. The full picture of your health includes data on your environment (where you live), any lab work you’ve had done, and any medications you’re currently taking. Inputting this data centralizes your health information and places it in the palm of your hands. Doing this also gives you the opportunity to advance medical research through data trials and artificial intelligence training projects.

As you sit down for Grandma’s famous stuffing or Aunt Jo’s traditional smoked ham this holiday season, think about what information you are currently missing about your family health history. Use the app as a talking point to encourage your family to take control of their health, as well.

Of the gifts available to you on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the gift of health may be the most important one you can give and receive.

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