In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann talks with Dr. Somi Javaid, OBGYN and chief medical officer at HerMD, about a new healthcare model that is empowering women to take control of their sexual health and wellness needs, and the opportunities she envisions for retailers and brands.

They discuss:

  • How traditional medical practices and retail have ignored women’s wellness issues, leaving health and wellness deserts
  • A new health care model that focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to treating women across ages, from menstruation to menopause to sexual health and wellness, in a friendly, supportive environment
  • Opportunities to create and deliver products that are modern, effective, safe, and supported by education, in a retail environment
  • The need – and opportunity — to integrate both virtual and physical support for women as they navigate busy lives
  • How Millennials and Gen Z women will not accept current approaches and messaging on sexual health and wellness as they age
Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.

Wendy  00:09
Hello, I’m Wendy Liebmann, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. Here’s where I talk to innovators disruptors, an iconoclast who is shaking up the future of retail.   You know, over the last year or so on this podcast health and wellness has been a topic of increasing interest. I know you’re all interested in it, you keep telling us, but not only as it relates to living through this pandemic, but also these really foundational issues that Americans, especially women are dealing with every day. You’ll remember on a recent episode with my business partner, Candace Corlett, she and I discussed our latest WSL research entitled The Next Wellness Frontier. And what was so fascinating about that is, you know, the issues that emerged and the issues such as anxiety and depression, as the number one conditions people tell us they’re managing and that stress is the number one barrier to a healthy life. And even more stunning or perhaps not for all of us in this research that was especially true for women and even more so for younger women. The other thing that was most disturbing to me in the research is how trust is being eroded for the medical profession, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. And again, especially with younger women, but women in general, so after that long, long intro, so when I met Dr. Somi Javaid, a Board Certified OBGYN and founder of HerMD a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted her to come and chat. I mean, we met in Cincinnati, thanks to Kroger, the grocery retailer, where we participated in a panel discussion on Power Aging. Well, that was pretty extraordinary at the Kroger Wellness Festival. We hit it off at once. Because there you have you’ll learn to passionate iconoclasts discussing aging on an outdoor stage on a Fall Saturday morning. I won’t tell you about the dancing guy in front of us. That’s another story. But what could be better than that? We just went like Oh my heavens, where have you been all my life? So after that very long introduction. Hello, Doctor Javaid, Somi, welcome to Future Shop.

Somi  02:23
Hey, Wendy. It’s so great to be here. I am looking so forward to our conversation. I as well when I was on stage, and I saw you with your outfit and your red lipstick and the conversation, with the dancing gentleman in front of us. I was like I have to meet this woman.  You literally were running for a plane. And we grabbed hands. And we said we’ll find each other. And so here we are. 

And so here we are with a subject that is of huge importance to both of us. So let’s just dive right in. I mean, one of the things that was really clear to me when we met at the festival, was that you are on an extraordinary journey to help women take control and feel purposeful about their health and wellness. How did you get started in this?

The founding story is always rooted in mission I think, especially for women. I nearly lost my mother when she was only 45 years old to cardiovascular disease. Now I was pre-med at the time. So I knew I wanted to make a difference in medicine. But science and data at the time could not explain why a thin, nonsmoking, 45 year old woman would ever present with four vessel disease. And so that was my aha moment that I was going to be an advocate for women and go into women’s health care. Fast forward a couple of years Wendy and the current health care system. And it smacked me in my idealistic face, trying to meet women, build rapport, trust, talk about intimate issues, examine them, write prescriptions, and don’t forget to document it all in the chart in 15 minutes became an impossible, insurmountable task.

And so that helped you step back and say, What is this model that has become HerMD?

Yes. Well, first, I went to a lot of hospital systems with a business plan. I used my network of individuals to help me with that, right, because I’m an MD, and they all kind of patted me on the back and were very paternalistic and said, it’s never gonna work. Good luck with it. And so, you know, went to my father and explained my frustrations and he was like, What have I told you? What have I taught you, if you can’t find an open door, you build your own door. And so that was the birth of HerMD was creating a women’s health care center with a specialty in menopause and sexual health care but to address all gynecologic issues, in a safe, warm, inviting, beautiful space. Fast forward five years after, you know, we opened our first location in Cincinnati, Ohio we had women from 35 states and three countries traveling for this new type of revolutionary health care model deep rooted in data and evidence, but very modern and very forward thinking?

Wendy  05:14
That I think is the thing that’s so exciting to me that name by itself says it, right? It’s mine. It’s about me. It’s HerMD, which I just love in its simplicity, and its intimacy. So, you know, one of the things when we were talking was that you quoted an astounding figure that women spend or will spend 40% of their life in menopause, I don’t know whether to go like ugh, or oh, well, look, there you go. More to come. The implications of that are really extraordinary. So why do you think traditional medical practices and retailers have ignored that or forget that it’s about women and their lives, but there’s a huge commercial opportunity there to being purely blunt. So why do you think it’s now that things are beginning to change? Or are are they?

Somi  06:07
They are changing.  I firmly believe as an entrepreneur and as a physician, that we are sitting upon the women’s healthcare revolution, I’m seeing more and more founders and entrepreneurs that agree with me that the status quo of the healthcare system was not only not okay, it was completely unacceptable. And I think, you know, a lot of people ask me, how did we get here, women being underrepresented in three out of every four clinical trials, women getting 1% of the $200 billion spent in clinical research, despite women outnumbering men as healthcare workers, we do not outnumber them in the boardroom. And so we are not decision makers, and for a long time, and still there is this profound gender bias that is taught and pervasive in medicine. I mean, we know female patients wait longer in the ER for pain medicine compared to their male counterparts. We know that women are more likely to die upon presentation of cardiovascular disease, just like my mom did. And so for a long time, menopause was just blown off, and women were told to just grin and bear it like it’s no big deal. And now women are no longer going to accept that advice. And there’s a lot of providers that are saying no more that women deserve better, because they are going to spend 40% of their life in this menopausal state.

Wendy  07:33
And I think the other piece to that more in our world of sort of retail and shopping, which I find extraordinary is that when you think that women still do 70-80% of all the shopping for every day, for their families, for their parents, for their kids, for their pets, that whole caregiving area of responsibility, so they have the power to insist with their wallets. And yet, when we look around, certainly retail that’s not reflected in in the experience that most people have and all of that, and I know you are actively engaged with some of the brands, particularly in this menopause world and advising on some of those. So how do you see that sort of tension in all of that, you know, up

Somi  08:21
until very recently, Wendy, the products that were out there were abysmal, embarrassing, had horrific names and images, like shriveled fruit to talk about the dryness of menopause. And so it took brands like Womaness and Stacy London’s State Of to really first bring the conversation into women’s minds, bring it to the forefront, bring attention to it, say, Hey, we’re all in this together so that we eliminate stigma and shame. And I think the second thing is creating products that are modern, effective, safe, can be used in conjunction with or instead of hormone replacement therapy. But the third piece that’s often missing, and that a lot of these entrepreneurs and CEOs are now understanding is you have to surround these products with education, because so many women and that’s the piece that I see, they come into the offices and say, Hey, Dr. Javaid, which one do you recommend and why? And so it’s that educational piece that for a lot of companies is missing. But the companies that I work with, and I’ve mentioned, they obviously have brought on a doctor to help them because they understand that they owe that to their patient or their consumers. They owe that to their consumers, because there has been such a knowledge gap when it comes to women’s health care, particularly in the menopausal space.

Wendy  09:52
It’s interesting to me because I spend a lot of time in stores but it resonated again with me last week because our team was doing an evaluation for one of the retailers are looking through stores and no names mentioned for the moment. But there was this, it was so stunning. It was like being in this dark hole, they redone the whole front section of the store really amazing. Lighting, bright, healthy, fabulous looking, pharmacy look great. And then you ended up in this sort of deep well, or dark hole, which was sexual wellness, which was feminine care, baby was right there, which was pretty dark and horrible as well. But I was really stunned because it felt to me like there was an opportunity that was missing, they put it near the pharmacy to give it a halo of health and wellness. And to your point, you know, the sort of integrity of the pharmacist. And yet the snack section looked better than this did. So that was really I think you’ve made me even more conscious beyond my general sensibility. But this was like, what,

Somi  10:54
as much as we think as Americans that we are progressive about our thoughts on sexuality. You know, we hear it in our lyrics. We see it on TV, but we’re not nearly as progressive as some other countries. And really, they’re we’re doing women and consumers a disservice by displays like that, because it’s almost encouraging the taboo that surrounds you know, the sexual health market. Every woman I know knows what EDI stands for. Every woman I know knows about Viagra, but they don’t know about options for themselves. They want to talk to me about sexual tools. They want to talk to me about vibrators. They want to talk to me about their sex drive and their sexual pain and what’s going on. And so, you know, currently we have, if you look on the medical side 26 medications available for men in the sexual health space, we only have two for women. And the first was not approved until 2015. And so we’re lagging that behind on the medical side and not the consumer side. It only makes sense that we have those deep dark aisles and plus all the restrictions on advertising. You know this, we are just starting to change that narrative. That too

Wendy  12:11
is amazing to me, because you’re absolutely right, whether it’s Viagra or Cialis, whether it’s new brands like Hims that began as Hims. And then finally like, oh, maybe we’ll add to Hers in there. Oh, what a novel idea. Okay. And that sort of averseness when so often, it’s I always think that men are much more coy about these things. But certainly the media or the advertising around at the direct to consumer advertising is there. That is extraordinary. And then when I walked down the aisle the other day, again, with this greater consciousness, I was stunned to see some of the names of some of the products that are now out there, right. So please don’t be embarrassed everybody. There are products on your shelf at your drugstore now called Tremble and Wave and Stroker. And even things like KY Jelly. Now, it’s not only called natural feeling moisturizing lubricant, it is now named “turn up the heat”. They are still all buried in this dark aisle. But it did really, I suppose laughed and wept at the same time. So anyway, enough of that. Enough of my gnashing and weeping. But I also do think about it in this context of women standing up, but a generation standing up. I mean, you’ve got young children, younger children. And I look at our data around Gen Z and young millennials. And I just do not see them putting up with this nonsense is that am I hopeful here? Is that realistic?

Somi  13:38
It’s absolutely realistic. We obviously HerMD have a deep specialty in menopause and sexual health care. But we provide all preventative GYN services and we have a medical spa. So we see you know, girls as young as 13. And I shared with you the other day that I’m raising, you know, two teenage girls at a 21 year old boy and you know, my daughter, we have these little period packs that I make for her in case she has bleeding when she’s not expecting it. And she was stopped by a substitute male teacher and was told she couldn’t go into the bathroom with it. And she questioned as to why and he pushed back and said I can’t have you cheating. And she looked him in the eye. And I don’t know if I would have had these guts in seventh grade. She’s like, I’m on my period. This is my period pack. And you know, my mother made it for me and she came home and she told me the story and she thanked me for helping her not be embarrassed about something as natural as menstruation That’s what I’ve always told my girls if they have an accident or something happens, you know, it’s not your fault. It’s a normal biologic function. So you are absolutely correct. I can only laugh and think about my girls as they’re gonna go through perimenopause and menopause and they will not stand for products named “happy hoo ha” creme they will not stand for delays in diagnosis and providers who tell them to  grin and bear it, or there’s nothing that they can do, or that there’s no options, there’s no way.

Wendy  15:05
Well, and I already see on the encouraging side of all of this, that knowledge, the homework, people are willing to do for themselves, obviously better access to information. And that requires better quality of information as well, which is why I understand why HerMD provide such a massive resource. But I also think about what we’re seeing out there now around period, you walk into a PINK, and not only have they talk about mental health, which is extraordinary, but you know, they’ve got period panties. They’re talking a lot about overall health and wellness. You walk into an Urban Outfitters, and I can’t remember the products called Crustacean Menstruation or Menstruation Crustacean, kind of weird, but anyway, in places you wouldn’t normally expect this. So I do sort of feel like this education of a younger generation, and an acceptance, as you say, in all of this, you know, the other thing that I think is interesting, you’re really building a practice around that sort of personal relationship and the safety and the security and the respect, I would say, of both the medical as well as the emotional questions that people ask.  You are expanding. And I know you’re opening more facilities, which is very exciting. So when talk to you about that, but also about how you’re using virtual with the physical experience in both the current in your current offices, but also as you expand. But can you talk a bit about that?

Somi  16:30
Yes, for sure. So you know, we were able to successfully fundraise last year and we are in the middle of fundraising this year. And we are going to expand our footprint from two locations to five. We are opening Nashville, and Indianapolis and Millburn, New Jersey, all before quarter one of next year. And we are blending a brick and mortar with a virtual experience because you and I both know busy women love to get on telehealth to take care of things online to just book it themselves. But they have that safety net of having that environment that HerMD family that they can come into and meet with someone face to face, but they also have the option if there is an emergency or you know they need a biopsy or they need imaging or they need bloodwork that they have a physical location that they can come into. And the virtual piece really allows us to cut down on the average wait time.  So the average wait time to get into a gynecologist if you call with a problem is nearly 32 days. Can you imagine telling a man just wait a month, you know, you’ll be fine. And so we’re eradicating those wait times and engaging with patients and getting them in as soon as we can. Are you seeing

Wendy  17:43
that with the work you’re doing virtually is it the range of ages that are that are taking advantage of that is it younger and older.

Somi  17:54
I thought it was going to be skewed younger, you know, just because my girls are so much savvier with technology. But we’re seeing it 18 and up definitely across the board and they’re engaging for all types of things. When you talk about Roe v Wade, and the access to contraception, we have a partnership now with Faber, which is a national pharmacy brand that is allowing access to contraception and care deserts. And so we are definitely seeing people engage with us, especially after you know what happened with Roe v Wade across all ages. And it’s not just for menopause. It’s not just for sexual health care, it’s for mental wellness, you talked about that we treat a lot of anxiety, depression, PMS, that comes along with different stages in women’s lives. And we also have formulated a partnership with Origin, another large telehealth company, that specifically targets pelvic floor physical therapy and help. And so we are like the quarterbacks of care, making sure that women get the access and the proper care that they need no matter where they live in this country.

Wendy  18:58
That’s interesting too. Because again, in all our research, we see where that where are the underserved populations, and people who, you know, really are looking for better health care, better wellness advice, mental, you know, an anxiety support. We talk about food deserts, but clearly they’re connected to that or separately, health and wellness deserts, the support that you’re offering goes way beyond the individual offices and medical clinics. Right. So now you’re sort of drawing a broader swath around the country with those partnerships and services.

Somi  19:33
And our research shows that you have to approach a multidisciplinary manner of treating women you know, you just can’t. For most men, sexual dysfunction is an erectile issue so that you can write a prescription and send a man on his way.  With women there it’s a bio-psychosocial model, meaning you have to take account of their hormones, what’s going on with their mental health, what’s going on with their relationship? And so we address all that And actually, HerMD has presented their data at numerous conferences this year talking about our success rates, particularly with sexual health patients because we do address all the facets that are involved with sexuality.

Wendy  20:14
I’ve been intrigued about the kinds of resources and places some of this guidance is emerging earlier. Last year, I did an interview here with Jo Hogan, who is the founder and managing director of Mecca, which is the largest specialty beauty retailer in Australia and New Zealand. She talked about that they had added this whole focus around things like naturopathy, but also fertility advice. And she got quite a bit of blowback on that because people said what are you you’re in beauty place you sell lipstick, you know, fragrance? Why are you doing fertility advice? I mean, they had a, you know, a board certified doctor or doctors providing this, it wasn’t just, you know, the makeup artist on the on the counter. And Jo said, our shoppers, the people who come to us, think about beauty in a much more holistic way. And so, fertility and mental health go absolutely with everything from you know, dermatological concerns. And so I found that really fascinating and seeing how some of these services and needs are popping up in what might be untraditional places do you see an opportunity for more and more of that as you build out HerMD?

Somi  21:28
I do. I you know, because number one, we have a full blown Medical Spa at HerMD because women want to come in for their pap their hormones and their Botox, and we’re facilitating that need. And as they look and feel better, they want to address their whole health concerns. So it’s very natural. It’s a very natural crossover to address all of that. And it’s a great space to allow for education. Now, obviously, there’s limitations, you don’t want to be doing biopsies or procedures in a retail center. But Wendy, I’ll tell you that HerMD is purposely placed in those lifestyle centers, where they’re shopping and restaurants and where you and I may want to hang out, because we have found that HerMD patients, we’ve done the research they want to come in and they want to make it an experience. They want to go shop afterwards, they want to eat, they want to hang out, sometimes they come with their girlfriends, because they want to learn. So I think it’s a huge opportunity in the retail space, as long as we surround it with education, and education from experts.

Wendy  22:34
So that deep dark aisle that I saw in the not to be named retailer, but it’s not alone to them. Because I’ve seen it in other places. If you were thinking about a retail space in a drugstore or grocery wherever, what’s your vision of what it could look like or should look like?

Somi  22:54
I think it should be front and center. I don’t think it should be in a deep dark back aisle because I’m about eradicating stigma and being a disrupter, I also think that you should surround it with education and quotes so that women don’t feel alone for example, 43% of women are struggling with some type of sexual dysfunction. One in 10, women struggles with low libido. And if I’m shopping for a product, and I may be embarrassed, and I see that, and I see that I’m not alone, surrounded it encouraging statements as well, that builds people up rather than shaming them or isolating them. And so that’s what I see. And I see modern packaging, great colors, safe ingredients. That’s my vision for the future.

Wendy  23:43
That is such an both optimistic view. And also an opportunistic view. For retailers. For brands. I understand now that why so often a brand like Womaness begins online, because they can tell their story online in a way that is inclusive, where there’s a wonderful voice to it, it’s you know, and then as they move into retail, when I worry about and Sally was on this, Sally Mueller who you know, well, who was one of the cofounders of Womaness and I talked about that when you take that to a retail space again, hopefully not a deep dark aisle, you know, how do you continue to communicate that? So do you still feel that the role of experts like yourself, but also the role of telling your story in a sort of digital space, continues to will continue to be important for the future?

Somi  24:36
I absolutely believe so. And I think the other things that Womaness and Stacy London and Naomi Watts are doing a great job of because they recognize that menopause isn’t a moment it’s a movement right? That they are surrounding their direct to consumer products in a lot of education. And we ourselves at HerMD our initiative for next year is we will be launching an e-commerce platform, specifically for physician curated, evidence-based solutions for women in the menopause and sexual health care space. So we’ll be featuring products from Womaness and Naomi Watts and State Of and multiple other brands of products and devices that I know work for women, so that they do have an over-the- counter option, especially if they’re not seeking hormones, or they’ve had an adverse response to hormones, or they’re not a candidate, because maybe they carry a BRCA mutation, or maybe they personally have a history of cancer, or a blood clot. And so that is my dream is that women have access and education to all of their options.

Wendy  25:44
That’s wonderfully exciting. And then, you know, you’re moving very fast on all of that, which is extraordinary. And then to think about it through the lens of your two daughters or younger generations. I do remember growing up in Australia, and there was an ad for tampons or and the headline was Mother Nature dropped dead. I think about that these many years later. In my menopausal stage. That’s really not the way I would want my kids to think about menstruation or natural things. So thank you for that vision. I am delighted that we got to meet on the stage with dancing men, we’ll tell you all that story later at another time. Actually, I should tell you that Somi had that amazing event where all these women came right for cocktails or something?

Somi  26:28
Yes, yes. That is what got everyone excited about it. You know, people are like, how do you get over 200 women to hang out with your gyno after hours? And we say we surround it with education, and we make HerMD a really fun space to hang out. So yeah, once a year, we do a thank you. We also do launch events when we open in new markets and we just got the warmest welcome in Nashville. And so we’re really creating a national brand for women and a family where they can call it their home.

Wendy  27:01
I can’t thank you enough for the not only the work you’re doing, but also the inspiration. This is hugely exciting. And we’re looking forward to New Jersey because that’s not so far. So come across the river to the opening celebration, right?

Somi  27:14
Thank you so much Wendy for having me.

Wendy  27:16
A pleasure. Cheers. So here’s the thing for the last decade in our How America Shops® research, we’ve tracked how Americans attitudes to health and wellness are changing. We have noted even prior to the pandemic, how shoppers especially women are increasingly determined to take more control of their own health and that of their families, how they want to access products, services and information that openly honestly and affordably helps them address everyday health concerns from sexual health and mental health to immunity, nutrition, and much more. That’s why services and support such as HerMD and brands like Womaness and State Of are leading the way in a health care movement that will quickly redefine what the future of retail looks like. At retail, dark aisles embarrassing names and lack of information are no longer acceptable even now. And if you don’t believe that, have a chat to the women, especially the younger women, in your household. Pay attention. This is a major opportunity for retailers and brands. So take a look at our website to see not only our latest research on these topics, but also to see examples of how retailers around the world are innovating in this space. Yes they are and they are moving fast. So there’s no time to lose here. Hurry up. attention must be paid if you want those shoppers, in your brands and in your stores. See you in the future.

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