Microsoft is funding efforts of the Intermountain Healthcare Clinical Genetics Institute to create a tool for electronic family health histories. In exchange, the institute, located at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, will use Microsoft's HealthVault as the framework.

Several months ago, Microsoft introduced HealthVault to the public. It's an Internet-based tool for individuals to collect, store and share their personal health information.

The institute is one of 15 organizations that will receive support from the Microsoft HealthVault "Be Well Fund" to inspire Internet-based health applications to benefit patients. Nearly 200 groups nationwide applied for the first round of funding. The institute applied for $168,000.

"Everyone knows how valuable a family health history can be, but sometimes important information gets left out," said Dr. Marc Williams, director of the institute. "Sometimes all the right questions get answered, but the doctor can't find the history in a thick file of paper records," he said in the press release announcing the award.

When that happens, a patient's family history can be overlooked during treatment and routine exams.

When a good family health history is taken and stored correctly, it can help guide patient care, pointing out things like a family history of colon cancer so screening can begin early, for instance.

Patients will be able, through the institute project, to sit at home and log onto an Intermountain Web site to answer guided questions concerning six top familial diseases: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. That information can then be sent to doctors' offices and hospitals, to be recognized by their different electronic records systems, all while protected by Intermountain's rigorous security measures.

The institute tracks the latest research and innovations in genetics and genomics to improve care quality. The Microsoft project is just one component of the institute's efforts to improve the collection of family health history data.