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New Computerized Family History Tool Aimed at Screening for Pre-term Birth and Inherited Diseases

March of Dimes Begins Testing New Electronic Device at Montefiore - Only Site in New York City

Bronx, NY (September 26, 2011) - A new computerized family history tool being tested by the March of Dimes and its partners can help health care providers record a detailed family history during the first prenatal visit to help screen for inherited conditions and preterm birth, as recommended in guidelines issued earlier this year by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Together with its partners - the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics, the Genetic Alliance, and the Massachusetts General Hospital- the March of Dimes will begin piloting its new family history electronic tool at Montefiore Medical Center and four other clinical sites nationally, putting family medical history at doctors' fingertips. Montefiore is the only site in New York City to use this tool.

Development of this new electronic tool was made possible through a three-year $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, Genetic Services Branch. Initial testing of the tool was recently completed at Tufts Medical Center, and long term testing will continue this year at Montefiore and four other sites. 

"Our goal is to provide this new electronic family history tool to help health care providers determine women's risk for problems during pregnancy so they can take steps to improve the chance of having full-term pregnancies and healthy babies," said Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH, an obstetrician gynecologist and clinical geneticist at Montefiore Medical Center, and associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a consultant to the March of Dimes.

The family history guidelines, published in the March issue of Obstetrics &  Gynecology, is the first statement by the College stressing the critical role of family history, the health information about a person and his or her close relatives, in assessing the risk of health problems, particularly in obstetrical care. 

Family health history is a critical factor in determining a person's risk for health problems such as miscarriage, preterm birth, birth defects, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, according to the March of Dimes.  Family health history can help health care providers screen and assess risk for many genetic conditions, some of which can be identified through testing and, more importantly, some of which can be treated through early intervention.

Using state of the art technology, and building on the HughesRiskApp platform developed at Partners Healthcare for hereditary cancer risk, this new tool enables doctors to apply a sophisticated understanding of genomics and family history to give babies a healthier start in life. Patients will fill out a standardized family history questionnaire in their doctor's office using a computerized tablet, rather than pen and paper. The information will then be analyzed electronically, and the tool will provide red flags and recommendations for health care providers based on current professional guidelines. On the basis of this information, health care providers may be prompted to ask the patient more questions, or refer her to a genetic specialist.

The four other sites where this tool are being tested include Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Mass; Maine-Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency Program, Augusta and Fairfield, Maine; Mountain Area Health Education Center, Asheville, NC; and Community Health Network, Indianapolis, IN.