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  • Writer's pictureFierce Healthcare

New specialty care provider Harmonia Healthcare opens clinic to treat extreme morning sickness

Updated: Jun 17

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May 10, 2024 1:10pm

Pregnant Woman on a Couch Patient Example | Harmonia Healthcare News | Emerald Bioventures
Harmonia Healthcare's chief scientific officer, Marlena Fejzo, Ph.D., will also leverage her groundbreaking discovery of the hormone associated with HG to drive innovations in prognostics, prevention and treatments. (iStock / Getty Images Plus / globalmoments)

Harmonia Healthcare, a new provider focused on specialty women’s health, has opened a clinic in New Jersey to treat hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). 

HG can bring nausea and vomiting during pregnancy severe enough to prevent proper food intake and can lead to weight loss, dehydration and ultimately hospitalization. It can cause complications for mothers and their babies and is estimated to affect up to nearly 11% of pregnant women.

Harmonia’s new clinic will offer evidence-based treatments and educate patients on the latest science around HG. Its offerings include medication and vitamin infusion, electrolyte replacement plans, prescription management, diagnostic bloodwork and telehealth. A second clinic is planned to open in New York City this fall. The clinic does not require referrals.  

Its chief scientific officer, Marlena Fejzo, Ph.D., a women’s health researcher with lived experience of HG, will also leverage her and colleagues' groundbreaking discovery of the hormone associated with the condition—GDF15—to drive innovations in prognostics, prevention and treatment. Fejzo was a 2023 Fiercest Women in Life Sciences awardee. 

Marlena Fejzo, Ph.D., chief scientific officer, Harmonia Healthcare (hyperemesis.org )


Headshot of Marlena Fejzo, PhD | CSO, Harmonia Healthcare
Marlena Fejzo, PhD | CSO, Harmonia Healthcare

“We really want to fix the broken care model in women’s health and improve care,” Fejzo told Fierce Healthcare. “We hope to expand this to be the future of care for these undertreated and underdiagnosed diseases.” 

Harmonia’s online platform will offer educational resources and eventually telehealth, though women should still ideally first come into the clinic in person.

The current status quo for women with HG is unacceptable and costly, Fejzo says. If they end up in an emergency room, they are treated with fluids or antiemetic drugs and released.

But because HG causes persistent nausea and vomiting, women need persistent medication management, Fejzo argues. If they are discharged without a prescription, many will inevitably wind up back in the hospital again; 60% of women have multiple hospital visits, per Fejzo. 

And, while HG is starting to be diagnosed properly more often, Fejzo said, it can still be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. 

“A lot of people think that it’s just regular nausea and vomiting and that everything’s going to be fine … when actually there are really adverse outcomes associated with HG for the mother and the baby,” Fejzo said. 

During a recent conference, Fejzo said she discovered ER doctors affiliated with Harvard discharge HG patients without a prescription. Their justification for it was that the medications might make them tired, and then they would have to miss work. “That’s a real misunderstanding of HG,” Fejzo said, adding that if Harvard-affiliated docs are doing it, “I assume it is common.” 

Part of the reason Fejzo believes this is happening is due to a famous historic incident known as the thalidomide disaster. After women being treated with thalidomide for nausea had babies with birth defects, it launched a widespread hesitancy to prescribe medications during pregnancy, Fejzo said. There also remains a misguided belief that HG is psychological or resolves on its own. 

And because HG typically starts early in pregnancy, many women see ER docs before even seeing their obstetrician, meaning many providers may not be aware of how sick their patients have really been. Obstetricians are also generally not trained to ask their patients about their levels of nausea and vomiting—and patients, too, may not talk about it, Fejzo explained.

To address this, Harmonia will be monitoring women receiving medication management and coordinating with their other providers, like OB-GYNs, midwives and doulas. The goal is to intervene as early as possible with more aggressive treatment before the condition spirals out of control.

The best medications for HG being prescribed off-label include Zofran, Phenergan and Reglan, according to Fejzo. Yet doctors usually begin with doxylamine and pyridoxine, as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which Fejzo says are “pretty much a placebo for HG.” 

By serving patients with HG, Harmonia will have the infrastructure in place to run clinical trials on potential new treatments, Fejzo said. She is already advising NGM Bio, which recently announced it is interested in testing its drug NGM120 in HG patients. 

While Fejzo doesn’t anticipate challenges with patients getting their scripts filled, Harmonia providers will educate patients on how to have conversations with pharmacists in case they do run into pushback. In recent years, pharmacists have sometimes refused to fill opioid prescriptions with doses they perceived as too high or poorly monitored by the prescriber.

One of the country’s only other clinics in this space, Alabama’s Morning Sickness Clinic, claims its model has led to a 95% reduction in ER visits and a 90% decrease in total cost of care. Its co-founder, an emergency medicine physician, is one of Harmonia’s clinical advisers. 

Harmonia eventually hopes to expand to serve other under-researched women’s health conditions. While the company does not currently plan to pursue formal health system partnerships, it hopes that its clinics will come to be known locally as the go-to expert for these conditions. 

And, while it isn’t yet, Harmonia plans to be working with commercial and Medicaid insurance plans by the end of this year.

About Harmonia Healthcare

Harmonia is a highly specialized women's health platform that combines cutting edge functional medicine treatment with science-backed resolution for underdiagnosed, undertreated and otherwise dismissed female-specific diseases. Initially focused on hyperemesis gravidarum, Harmonia's physician-lead research, diagnostic and treatment programs result in superior health outcomes and subsequently enhanced wellbeing and quality of life.

For more information on Harmonia and hyperemesis gravidarum, or to learn if you might be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, visit www.harmoniahealthcare.com or connect with us on Instagram at @harmoniahealthcare

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