HerMD offers a new approach to female health care
Waiting for an appointment at HerMD is not like sitting in any hospital or doctor’s waiting room you might have experienced. It’s more akin to a spa or even a friend’s living room. There are no matching upholstered chairs aligned in precise rows with an assortment of magazines sitting on interspaced side tables. Instead, picture a large plush emerald green couch, flanked by two mid-century leather armchairs and two velvet accent chairs, arranged around a coffee table adorned with books such as Lessons in Chemistry, At Least You Have Your Health, and Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World.
Sure, some doctors’ offices have a water dispenser, but how about an alcove that features a mini fridge filled with cans of San Pellegrino sparkling water, an array of tea and coffee options, and organic nutrition bars? Products pertaining to women’s health are displayed on a nearby shelf for patients to peruse.
Indeed, with its recessed lighting and arched doorways, the clinic exudes a calming atmosphere. What’s more, the waiting room isn’t packed. No nurses are seen rushing about.
HerMD, which started in 2015 as a gynecologist clinic run by Dr. Somi Javaid in Cincinnati, Ohio, has exploded in popularity for precisely this reason. Why must doctor’s offices feel so incredibly sterile, cold, and uncomfortable? And shouldn’t women be given more than a few hurried minutes to meet with their doctor?
With patients regularly traveling from 35 states and three countries to the Cincinnati clinic, the answer to this question was a resounding YES. And thus, HerMD was formed. Infused with $30 million in venture capital funds to expand, it has been opening new clinics across the country.
“It was humbling to see women traveling from everywhere, but it was heartbreaking that this care was not available,” says Komel Caruso, who is one of three minority women co-founders of HerMD, along with Caruso’s sister and lead medical officer, Dr. Javaid, and Kathy Lai.
The Millburn clinic, located at 241 Millburn Avenue, is the fifth HerMD location nationwide and the first on the East Coast. Since opening last August, the practice has drawn patients from as far away as Washington, D.C., Manhattan and Brooklyn.
HerMD, which remains headquartered in Cincinnati, chooses new locations based on several factors, including a study of demographics, need, and availability of qualified physicians. Millburn rated high in all these areas, says Caruso, who lives in West Orange – a fact that also helped secure a clinic in Northern New Jersey.
In addition to Cincinnati and Millburn, other HerMD practices are in Crescent Springs, Ky., Franklin, Tenn., and Carmel, Ind. Each clinic offers in-person and telehealth services.
Actress Melissa Gilbert, made famous by the Little House on the Prairie series, was one of 1,200 women who signed up on a waiting list to be one of the Millburn clinic’s first clients when it opened last August. In an Oct. 18, 2023 blog post, she gushed about her experience:
“HOLY WOW! What a difference! First, my appointment last[ed] over an hour! Now I ask you, when, if ever, has any doctor spent over an hour with you? It was amazing! Not only did my doctor validate everything I was going through, but she also walked me through all the treatment plans available and let me choose which one was best for me to start with. What’s more she offered me a major blood test to detect a myriad of genetic markers for cancers and other diseases,” Gilbert wrote.
More than two dozen clients agree, explaining in review after review how the doctors and nurse practitioners spent quality time with them and really listened to their concerns and questions.
“I have NEVER had such a thorough and thoughtful consultation at any medical practice in my entire life,” one Google reviewer said. “WHY isn’t everyplace like HerMD??? I have a feeling that this is the beginning of something BIG!!!”
“For the first time ever, I did not have to censor my questions or feel too embarrassed to ask,” another woman wrote.
Again and again, women wrote about how they felt that they were seen, heard and above all, respected.
“After being treated like an inconvenient afterthought by my previous OBGYN practice once I was past childbearing age, HerMD’s ads appealed to me,” said one woman, who described how she was “treated with kindness, empathy and respect” during her visit to HerMD.
Caruso smiles and nods at the reviews. It’s no accident that women feel seen and heard at HerMD. The idea for the clinic came from a near-fatal experience the sisters’ mom had in 1996, while Javaid was a pre-med student at Northwestern University.
Their family has a history of sudden cardiac deaths, so their mother went to the doctor with left arm pain, chest pain, and shortness of breath. But she was dismissed, her doctor telling her it was stress or anxiety and to rest and lay off caffeine, Caruso says. Months later, their mother was rushed to the ER for quadruple bypass surgery, at age 45.
“Somi decided then that she was going to go into women’s healthcare because she didn’t want women to be dismissed,” Caruso says, citing research that shows women experience as much as an 8.5-year delay in diagnoses because of dismissals.
Javaid decided to focus on women’s healthcare because of the lack of providers who are trained in this area. According to Caruso, less than 20 percent of OBGYNs are trained in menopause and sexual healthcare and 93 percent of OBGYNs who come out of medical school feel uncomfortable treating menopause patients because they get little to no training in that area.
“If you think about that, it’s really mind blowing,” Caruso says.
As Gilbert explains in her Modern Prairie blog post, menopause isn’t given a lot of attention in most medical schools, so it’s important for women to find a practitioner who is certified by the North American Menopause Society, or NAMS. All the practitioners at HerMD are certified by NAMS and have International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health training.
According to Caruso, 85 percent of women experience some of the 34 symptoms directly related to menopause. Many of these symptoms have treatment options. Unfortunately, because there are so few trained providers, many women don’t know about the treatment options available to them.
“It’s really a disservice what is being done to women in the healthcare system,” Caruso says.
Besides menopause counseling, HerMD offers advanced gynecological care on a variety of women’s health conditions, including fibroids, endometriosis, infertility, pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, incontinence, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Additionally, the clinic treats numerous conditions related to female sexual health; provides cancer screening and care, including pap and HPV testing, and breast exams; offers fertility care and contraception, including birth control pills and IUDs; diagnoses and treats sexually transmitted infections; and offers pregnancy confirmation and care up to 12 weeks.
“We want to provide access,” Caruso says. “That is core to our mission.” HerMD is able to focus on offering this level of care to women by making a conscious choice not to do obstetrics and instead to refer pregnancy care to other OB-GYN practices. The reason for this is that pregnancy care tends to overshadow other women’s health needs, making non-pregnancy-related appointments harder to get and extremely short. Much of this has to do with insurance reimbursement rates, which are very low for non-pregnancy care, Caruso explains.
“This allows for us to have a better provider and patient experience,” she says. “You can come here for contraception and birth control, take a break if you are having babies, then come back. We have patients aged 13 to 90.” (The median patient age is 41, she says.)
Another way HerMD is able to provide access is by also offering a line of aesthetic services, in which women can book private pay appointments for HydraFacials, chemical peels, dermaplaning, microneedling, eyebrow and lash lifts, Botox and Dysport injections, dermal fillers, Sculptra or Kybella, laser hair removal, and other body treatments to tighten skin, tone muscle, and diminish scars. “The spa takes care of many of the concerns that our patients have,” Caruso says. “It really is comprehensive care.”
HerMD takes most major insurance plans, including BlueCross BlueShield, UnitedHealthcare and Medicare. (Aetna and Cigna coverage was pending as of publication.) HerMD also welcomes queer women, trans women, and gender-nonconforming persons. Appointments can be scheduled by phone or online at HerMD.com.
Malia Rulon Herman is an education and healthcare reporter based in Maplewood.