The Family Health Guide

About The Book

In conjunction with Simon & Schuster, Harvard Medical School is publishing a group of books for the public on wellness and illness. The first book, published in October 1999, is the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.


Summary of the Book

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide is a 1300-page book that brings you the latest information — what you need to know to keep yourself and your family healthy and to cope with illness. It also provides you with the information you need to deal with the sometimes confusing and frustrating world of managed care.
The book is available wherever books are sold. The book can be shipped to you through collaboration between Harvard Medical School and

To take advantage of the latest medical advances, and to deal with the sometimes-confusing world of health care, you need information that is clear, accurate, easily understandable and accessible. This is what you will find in the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide is more than the printed book. It is also this Web site, called the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide On-line. This Web site makes the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide the "First Family Health Guide That Will Never Go Out of Date."

Who Created the Book?

For more than 200 years, doctors from Harvard Medical School have provided state-of-the-art health care to millions of people from New England and all over the world.

There are over 170 of us, all members of the Harvard Medical School faculty, who edited this book (print and on-line). We care for patients every day. We know that people are faced with many confusing choices and with more health information than ever before. We also know that the face-to-face time you and your doctor have together can be limited.

We wrote the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide because we want you to have the best of health care.

The First Family Health Guide Created For the Age of Managed Care

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide helps you deal with the age of managed care and HMOs.

  • It provides information on how to find out about the quality of medical care given by doctors, hospitals, and HMOs.
  • It explains what managed care is, along with various other kinds of health insurance and health systems.
  • It tells you your rights as a patient.
  • It helps you to understand and accurately describe your symptoms, and determine when you need to call the doctor (
  • It helps you ask the right questions of your doctor
  • It explains the latest research, treatments and diagnostic tests.
  • It helps you to make informed choices, and demand and receive the best medical care available.

The Only Family Health Guide that Will Never Go Out of Date

We faculty from Harvard Medical School will keep the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide updated for you on-line. We will bring you groundbreaking information on wellness and illness, and lots more of the specially designed features you will find so useful in the book.

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide On-Line is not the whole book on-line. Some parts of the book are included in the on-line site. However, mostly what we provide for you on-line is information that is not in the book — because it is new information since the book was published, or because it is additional information (or additional pictures) that we could not fit in the book.

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide On-Line also takes advantage of the interactive power of the Web.

  • For example, check out the Symptom Charts in which the computer asks you a series of questions about a symptom that you, or a member of your family, have, and helps you decide what to do.
  • As another example, we will have an interactive program that allows you to type in the name of two drugs that you are on, and the computer will tell you if it recognizes a potentially serious interaction between the two drugs. As well as an interactive program to help you identify potentially serious interactions between a drug and an herbal preparation that you might be taking.

Special Features of the Book

The special features in the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide book include:

Symptom charts — what do you do when you develop a particular symptom, such as sudden pain in your abdomen? Is there a home remedy, alternative medicine treatment, or over-the-counter medicine you can get at the drugstore? When do you need to contact the doctor? These easy-to-follow charts will help you determine how you may be able to treat yourself, and when you need to contact the doctor.

Advice for when you visit your doctor — For many common illnesses, we provide information about what should happen when you visit your doctor — what issues you should discuss and what kind of a physical examination and laboratory tests your doctor should perform regularly. Think about and write down questions to discuss with your doctor before your visit. Knowing what to expect when you see your doctor can also help you judge how thorough your care has been. Click here for an example.

Advice on understanding medicines — Your doctor may be too busy to fully explain all about your medicine, its benefits, and its possible side effects. In the chapter Medicines, we describe the major types of medicines that doctors prescribe today, and what they are used for.

Advice on drug-drug interactions and drug-herb interactions — The Medicines chapter has an extensive chart of possible adverse reactions between different drugs. If you are taking more than one medication, or if you are taking conventional medications and herbal preparations, you need to know if there might be a dangerous interaction between them. We can show you what this might be.

Home remedies — You don’t always need a doctor. In the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, we offer home remedies that can give you relief from common symptoms.

Alternative medicine treatments — A variety of alternative medicine treatments are being seriously studied at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere. Some have been found to be helpful, and others risky. We tell you about them in the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.

Advice on understanding diagnostic tests — Modern medicine uses many diagnostic tests. We describe what these tests are and what they are used for. In our book, in the Guide to Imaging, we show you the most sophisticated tests available. We also describe many other tests performed in your doctor’s office or that you can perform at home. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide On-line contains much additional information about diagnostic tests that is not found in the book, including how you prepare for a test, and what happens after the test is over.

Benefit and risk-assessment graphs — There is so much health information available and, often, more than one treatment for a problem. How do you choose among them? We provide information in easy-to-follow graphs about the benefits and risks of various diagnostic tests and treatments and the benefits of lifestyle changes to keep healthy.

Advice from Harvard doctors — Some of the best doctors on the Harvard Medical School faculty have provided personal words of advice based on their experience — the advice they give their own patients.

Personal stories — We present the personal statements of people who have suffered from an illness, and sometimes how they have coped with it. For example, author John Updike describes what it is like to live with psoriasis, the actress Patty Duke describes her experience with manic depression, and someone anonymous — perhaps someone like you—talks about living with lupus.

Understanding how your body works — Other books describe how your body is built. We show you how your body works — in colorful art that clearly depicts how you see, hear, move, digest food, circulate blood, and so forth.

Advice on dealing with the healthcare system — Dealing with the healthcare system can be a pain in the neck. The many different kinds of health insurance policies and managed care programs can be very confusing. Also, doctors are under increased pressure to see more patients — which means they have less time to spend with you. Throughout this book, we provide information that will enable you to be your own advocate in obtaining the best health care.

Advice on finding healthcare resources — In the Appendix, we provide the names, addresses, phone numbers, and (when available) Internet addresses of the agencies and organizations that can help you with many different problems, particularly community support services. Information we could not fit in the book is found here on the Web site.

Glossary — A glossary defining various medical terms.