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Graduate Student Works to Improve Healthcare for the Homeless

March 23, 2007

About 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year in the United States. Kallol Mahata, a computer science & engineering master’s student at the University of Texas at Arlington, is developing a system that will help social service agencies provide them with better health care.

Kallol is working with Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston (HHH), which assists the estimated 12,000 people living on the streets there, to create a medical street outreach program for the homeless. Gathering relevant clinical information on the streets is difficult; scheduling appointments is not possible and carrying paper records is cumbersome and inefficient. While several complex healthcare record systems have been developed for hospitals and outpatient, no such system exists for collecting health data on the streets.

Through funding supplied by St. Luke's United Methodist Church/Outreach Council and the Lyons Foundation, Kallol’s Homeless Electronic Record System project created the first light-weight electronic medical record built to address the process of healthcare on the streets. It was designed for use on a tablet personal computer to collect, organize and share clinical data.

Kallol began this project on a voluntary basis in 2005 and presented a preliminary design of an electronic medical records system in November of that year. Improvements were developed throughout 2006; in September 2006, HHH and UT Arlington signed a research project contract for Kallol to work as a Graduate Research Assistant on the project. He is currently integrating fingerprint recognition into the program and hopes to have working systems on the streets of Houston this summer.

About 20 agencies (both domestic and international) are interested in this project and could become involved. The system can be easily adapted for use during disaster relief and emergency situations.
“Working on this project the past two years has been very personal to me (my parents being medical missionaries in India) and a learning experience not just in terms of technical knowledge, but also with regard to the needs of the homeless and the less fortunate,” said Kallol. “I’ve come to realize that I want to focus my career and apply my skill to such a cause, where a community that truly needs the most attention is served.”

Kallol’s advisor on this project, Computer Science & Engineering Assistant Professor Jeff Lei, also sees the impact the project has had on Kallol and people being served. “He is one of the very best students I have ever worked with,” said Dr. Lei. “His project is an excellent example of how technological advances can benefit the society as a whole and also helps to promote the image of our department to the social services community.” Kallol recently received a Computer Science & Engineering Departmental award honoring his contributions enhancing the reputation of the department.