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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Researchers Pilot New Way to Collect Family Health History

A computerized “virtual counselor” co-piloted by  Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers to collect patients’ family histories was successful in identifying relatives’ health conditions, including hypertension and diabetes, in an underserved patient population, a new study says.

Researchers from BUSPH and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) reported in the journal Genetics in Medicine that the results from a pilot study of the computer-animated program they developed “demonstrate the acceptability of a virtual counselor, as well as the feasibility of using this platform to collect family health history in an electronic format.” The new touch-screen tool also overcame “some of the previously identified barriers” in collecting information using another existing computerized tool (the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait, or MFHP).

The new program — dubbed “VICKY,” for Virtual Counselor for Knowing Your Family History — identified 86 percent of first-degree relatives, as compared to full family histories obtained by a genetics counselor. Its success rate in detecting six health conditions was 49 percent — higher than the MFHP rate — with significantly higher detection for hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Catharine Wang, associate professor of community health sciences at BUSPH and lead author of the study, said family health history is “one of the most important risk factors for many chronic conditions,” yet its integration into clinical practice has had “surprisingly poor frequency and quality.” Among the most commonly cited barriers to collecting the information are a lack of time, lack of physician compensation for the efforts, and a lack of standardized collection methods, she said.

To read more about the study, go to: