Use of a web-based risk appraisal tool for assessing family history and lifestyle factors in primary care

Heather J. Baer, Louise I. Schneider, Graham A. Colditz, Hank Dart, Analisa Andry, Deborah H. Williams, E. John Orav, Jennifer S. Haas, George Getty, Elizabeth Whittemore, David W. Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Primary care clinicians can play an important role in identifying individuals at increased risk of cancer, but often do not obtain detailed information on family history or lifestyle factors from their patients. OBJECTIVE: We evaluated the feasibility and effectiveness of using a web-based risk appraisal tool in the primary care setting. DESIGN: Five primary care practices within an academic care network were assigned to the intervention or control group. PARTICIPANTS: We included 15,495 patients who had a new patient visit or annual exam during an 8-month period in 2010-2011. INTERVENTION: Intervention patients were asked to complete a web-based risk appraisal tool on a laptop computer immediately before their visit. Information on family history of cancer was sent to their electronic health record (EHR) for clinicians to view; if accepted, it populated coded fields and could trigger clinician reminders about colon and breast cancer screening. MAIN MEASURES: The main outcome measure was new documentation of a positive family history of cancer in coded EHR fields. Secondary outcomes included clinician reminders about screening and discussion of family history, lifestyle factors, and screening. KEY RESULTS: Among eligible intervention patients, 2.0 % had new information on family history of cancer entered in the EHR within 30 days after the visit, compared to 0.6 % of eligible control patients (adjusted odds ratio = 4.3, p = 0.03). There were no significant differences in the percent of patients who received moderate or high risk reminders for colon or breast cancer screening. CONCLUSIONS: Use of this tool was associated with increased documentation of family history of cancer in the EHR, although the percentage of patients with new family history information was low in both groups. Further research is needed to determine how risk appraisal tools can be integrated with workflow and how they affect screening and health behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-824
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • cancer
  • family history
  • primary care
  • risk appraisal


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