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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Altruism and Public Health

A pair of entrepreneurial students have developed a high-tech way to help the homeless

– By Bonny Osterhage

UTSA students Kavina Patel and Farhan Ahmed didn’t meet until college, but they share many common interests, including a passion for medicine and its intersection with public health. That passion, combined with their acceptance into the Student Entrepreneurship Fellowship program run by the UT System led to the creation of a concept they hope will change the way we help the homeless. They call it VideoMed.

“VideoMed is a pilot project with the goal to provide free psychiatric consultations to underserved homeless individuals through videoconferences with licensed mental health providers,” explains Patel, who along with Ahmed was one of only 40 individuals who were competitively selected to participate in the fellowship program, which teaches students how to start a company from concept to completion. “We wanted to base our project in the area of medicine but take an altruistic approach with concepts of social entrepreneurship.”

Both Patel and Ahmed are enrolled in Facilitated Acceptance to Medical Education at UTSA. This program allows students to earn their degrees from both UTSA and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio’s School of Medicine in just seven years. Describing their concept as “philanthropic telemedicine,” Patel says the idea for the project came to her and Ahmed through a psychiatry course required for all freshmen FAME students. During the course they interviewed psychiatric patients locally at University Hospital and a Veterans Affairs facility. Patel describes the experience as “eye-opening.”

“This course was formative in allowing us to see the grave impact that psychiatric illnesses have on people in our community,” she says. “Speaking with these psychiatric patients shaped our preliminary understanding of the way in which mental illness manifests.”

Through their research, Patel and Ahmed discovered that there are over 60,000 homeless individuals in our country, and about 20% of those individuals have severe mental issues. Since homeless shelters, churches, and libraries are common hangout sites for these individuals, the students hope to partner with such facilities so that they can facilitate medical encounters.

Over the next year the UTSA undergrads plan to obtain nonprofit status for VideoMed, establish partnerships within the community, and recruit mental health providers. In addition, they are already working on a pilot program with a small number of homeless individuals. “We are being prudent about our approach by exploring all of our options and speaking to a variety of professionals,” Patel says. “We hope to one day alleviate the burden mental illnesses cause to homeless individuals and our overall society through the use of health technology and the internet.”


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