Association of Disparities in Family History and Family Cancer History in the Electronic Health Record With Sex, Race, Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity, and Language Preference in 2 Large US Health Care Systems

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Oct 3;5(10):e2234574. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.34574.


Importance: Clinical decision support (CDS) algorithms are increasingly being implemented in health care systems to identify patients for specialty care. However, systematic differences in missingness of electronic health record (EHR) data may lead to disparities in identification by CDS algorithms.

Objective: To examine the availability and comprehensiveness of cancer family history information (FHI) in patients' EHRs by sex, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and language preference in 2 large health care systems in 2021.

Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective EHR quality improvement study used EHR data from 2 health care systems: University of Utah Health (UHealth) and NYU Langone Health (NYULH). Participants included patients aged 25 to 60 years who had a primary care appointment in the previous 3 years. Data were collected or abstracted from the EHR from December 10, 2020, to October 31, 2021, and analyzed from June 15 to October 31, 2021.

Exposures: Prior collection of cancer FHI in primary care settings.

Main outcomes and measures: Availability was defined as having any FHI and any cancer FHI in the EHR and was examined at the patient level. Comprehensiveness was defined as whether a cancer family history observation in the EHR specified the type of cancer diagnosed in a family member, the relationship of the family member to the patient, and the age at onset for the family member and was examined at the observation level.

Results: Among 144 484 patients in the UHealth system, 53.6% were women; 74.4% were non-Hispanic or non-Latino and 67.6% were White; and 83.0% had an English language preference. Among 377 621 patients in the NYULH system, 55.3% were women; 63.2% were non-Hispanic or non-Latino, and 55.3% were White; and 89.9% had an English language preference. Patients from historically medically undeserved groups-specifically, Black vs White patients (UHealth: 17.3% [95% CI, 16.1%-18.6%] vs 42.8% [95% CI, 42.5%-43.1%]; NYULH: 24.4% [95% CI, 24.0%-24.8%] vs 33.8% [95% CI, 33.6%-34.0%]), Hispanic or Latino vs non-Hispanic or non-Latino patients (UHealth: 27.2% [95% CI, 26.5%-27.8%] vs 40.2% [95% CI, 39.9%-40.5%]; NYULH: 24.4% [95% CI, 24.1%-24.7%] vs 31.6% [95% CI, 31.4%-31.8%]), Spanish-speaking vs English-speaking patients (UHealth: 18.4% [95% CI, 17.2%-19.1%] vs 40.0% [95% CI, 39.7%-40.3%]; NYULH: 15.1% [95% CI, 14.6%-15.6%] vs 31.1% [95% CI, 30.9%-31.2%), and men vs women (UHealth: 30.8% [95% CI, 30.4%-31.2%] vs 43.0% [95% CI, 42.6%-43.3%]; NYULH: 23.1% [95% CI, 22.9%-23.3%] vs 34.9% [95% CI, 34.7%-35.1%])-had significantly lower availability and comprehensiveness of cancer FHI (P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that systematic differences in the availability and comprehensiveness of FHI in the EHR may introduce informative presence bias as inputs to CDS algorithms. The observed differences may also exacerbate disparities for medically underserved groups. System-, clinician-, and patient-level efforts are needed to improve the collection of FHI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Neoplasms*
  • Retrospective Studies