May 3, 2016—Physician Jeff Vogel, MPH ’16, has treated all manner of workplace injuries from broken bones to monkey bites. When these patients need rehabilitation, Vogel wants to get them back on the job as soon as possible—studies have shown that it’s better for their health even beyond their recovery, he said.
But the process can be slow and that bothered Vogel, who often found himself wishing for a better way to empower patients than handing them a piece of paper with a few exercises to do between doctor’s appointments. During his first year in the Occupational and Environmental Health Residency program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2014, he thought of a way that technology could help fill this gap.
Over the course of his two-year training program at the School—during which he sees patients at sites including Massachusetts General Hospital while taking classes—Vogel built his idea into a company called RecoverMe, an app-based platform and package of services that will be marketed directly to companies and employers.
When a worker at a company using RecoverMe is injured, they will be able to create a profile on the platform and receive a tailored recovery plan. Through the app, they’ll receive daily physical therapy routines and a personalized exercise regimen. They will also be able to view and engage with media based on their personal needs. The aim is to make the experience fun as well as educational, Vogel said. Still in development is a social media component that will connect injured workers with a support network. RecoverMe also will consult with employers, educating them on topics such as how to accommodate workers after they have returned following injury.
As a CEO leading a team of four, Vogel oversees all aspects of RecoverMe, from developing the platform to meeting with investors.
“As you can imagine, I don’t get much sleep,” he said. Even so, he’s upbeat and overflowing with energy about the project. “Workplace injuries are $192 billion a year problem in the U.S. There is a tremendous need for new tools to rein in costs. I would love to be at the forefront of innovation to improve the current system.”
“Jeff is clearly thinking like an entrepreneur. He has the passion for his idea and the drive to make it happen,” said Rick Siegrist, a lecturer in the Department of Health Care Management, whose health care entrepreneurship class helped shape Vogel’s startup. “I’m looking forward to hearing great things about his continued progress.”
Vogel plans to continue with RecoverMe after graduation, but he’s also thinking about new opportunities. After being introduced to corporate medicine during his Harvard Chan program, Vogel could see himself eventually in a leadership role at a large company, doing things like structuring corporate wellness programs and insurance plans.
He is already making a difference in a way that he never expected to when he started his residency. Last year, a friend in the program introduced him to Camp Casco, a weeklong summer camp for childhood cancer patients in western Massachusetts. Vogel quickly fell in love with the program, and now serves as its volunteer medical director.
The resilience of these young campers has given him a new perspective on meeting his own challenges, he said, and the experience has also brought home the importance of taking the time to listen to his patients. He recalled a 14-year-old camper who had undergone multiple surgeries to treat her bone cancer. One day during an activity, her leg became swollen. Vogel took her to the “med shed” and invited her to talk about what she was going through.
“On a normal day, you don’t always have time to digest what is really going on with a patient because the environment is so hectic,” he said. “It was mind-blowing to hear about her grueling experiences with treatment, and how normal they seemed to her. And all of the kids there have similar challenges. They don’t complain. They get back up and keep moving forward.”
Photo: Sarah Sholes