Cathy Petti is chief health officer of AncestryHealth. Launched by Ancestry.com last month, the new service gives users the ability to create a digital record of diseases and causes of death that have affected their families over the decades. The company plans to partner with EHR vendors so that users can share family health histories electronically with physicians. It also plans to add genetic information to the mix soon via its AncestryDNA testing service.
What was the impetus for launching AncestryHealth?
Currently, when a patient provides family health histories to his or her doctor, it is in the doctor’s office, where doctors generally feel rushed. It is unfortunate, because family health history is one of the richest data sets available to help identify risks for various medical conditions. Knowing that history may help patients choose different lifestyles, behavior modifications, or to undergo screening at an earlier age.
Even the Surgeon General says family health history is one of the most effective screening tools that we have at our disposal, and it is free and non-invasive. Yet far too few use it. At AncestryHealth, we look forward to tapping into consumer curiosity about their health and motivators to be mindful of health and wellbeing.
AncestryHealth is committed to providing individuals with meaningful information and relevant research to help them make choices that could lead to longer, healthier lives. Our integration of health information and unparalleled genealogical expertise will help consumers trace their own health conditions along family lines and understand what it means, while allowing individuals to record this valuable information to share with their physicians and family.
How does the company plan to integrate its Health and DNA offerings in the near future?
AncestryHealth is considering incorporating ethnicity as part of the health profile so that customers can see how research shows that risk may be affected by ethnic background; for example, that certain conditions are more common among certain ethnic groups.
What EHR vendors will AncestryHealth work with? Why were these particular companies chosen?
We’re currently considering a number of different EHR vendors based on the ease of their ability to work seamlessly with diverse physicians and healthcare institutions nationwide. We plan to work closely with these institutions to integrate family health history data into EHRs to better help physicians use family health history as a screening tool.
Given healthcare’s notorious interoperability problem, how does AncestryHealth plan to ease the burden of sharing medical records for its users?
Ancestry has robust experience organizing and streamlining massive amounts of family history information (10 petabytes of data), including 16 billion records from 67 countries made up of birth, death, census, military and immigration records; 70 million user-contributed family trees and associated photos and stories; and, through AncestryDNA, more than 1 million genotyped DNA samples. Scaling and making searchable a rapidly growing database of billions of records from various sources requires significant technological capability to provide useful results for Ancestry members, whether they access the company’s service through traditional Web and software access or by other mobile applications. We understand the unique challenges and opportunities of managing enormous data sets. We place critical importance on the ability for the end-user (whether consumer or physician) to easily digest actionable health information.
Does Ancestry have any plans to use de-identified user health data to engage in research projects with academia, government or businesses?
We carefully consider all research collaboration options. Consistent with the informed consent on the AncestryHealth site, AncestryHealth will only share information with third parties for research or publication if the user has accepted the informed consent. In all instances where we share user information, we will remove information that traditionally permits identification of specific individuals, such as names and birth dates.