MERIT Executive Spotlight:
Heather Baumhauer

Heather Baumhauer, MS
Senior VP, Clinical Services

MERIT Executive Spotlight is a series featuring executive team members introducing themselves and explaining why they chose to work in the clinical trials industry and at MERIT.

Heather is unwavering in her commitment to providing diligent clinical trial support. Drawing from her extensive research experience in academic, reading center, and CRO environments, Heather’s approach to projects is geared toward ensuring the highest level of service excellence. Building on her foundation as a study coordinator, Heather has maintained her status as an ACRP Certified Clinical Research Coordinator since 2012. These qualifications equip her with the expertise needed to skillfully lead a team of clinical trial professionals. Heather brings nearly two decades of invaluable experience to the MERIT Clinical Services team.

What Is the Role of MERIT’s Project Management (PM) Team?

Within the MERIT Clinical Trials team, we see our Project Management (PM) division as the central hub, serving as the primary point of contact for both internal and external stakeholders, including sponsors, vendors, and sites, among others.

In our study support role, PM is dedicated to ensuring clarity and facilitating smooth communication. Clinical trials can be complex and bewildering and having been a former study coordinator at a site, I understand the challenges of navigating the various protocols, communication pathways, and operational intricacies associated with different sponsors. It’s a relief to have a single point of contact, a trusted individual you can turn to for answers and guidance.

Every member of our team, including myself, is readily available to answer calls and address support requests. We are all here with a collective commitment to ensuring that every study proceeds with precision and minimal friction. There’s no concept of “That’s not my study” here; we all collaborate to support all studies continuously. While sponsors receive dedicated PMs, backup PMs, and Project Coordinators for their studies, behind the scenes, an entire team is diligently working to provide support and ensure the success of every study.

What Are Some of MERIT’s PM Customer Service Differentiators?

The collaborative approach outlined earlier leads to swifter issue resolution and reduced waiting times.

In today’s digital era, connecting with an actual person over the phone can be quite challenging. However, behind the emails and queries you receive from MERIT, there’s a real person analyzing your unique situation, ensuring that responses are tailored and not scripted or generic. When you receive well wishes or expressions of gratitude in a support ticket response, such as “Best Wishes” or “Thanks,” signed by Heather, rest assured that these sentiments are authentically mine.

We prioritize cultivating meaningful connections, which, I believe, is becoming increasingly rare. Many of us have come to anticipate automated decision trees on the phone or chatbots on websites. That’s why having a real person ready to answer your question and engage in follow-up dialogue sets us apart significantly.

Our team excels at identifying the matter at hand and elevating it to a top priority rather than delaying it with the notion of “I’ll address it when I can.” We believe in promptly tackling and resolving issues on the spot, rather than deferring them. This not only streamlines the process but also enhances overall efficiency, making for a more seamless and enhanced customer service experience.

How Are Clients Integrated into MERIT’s PM Customer Service?

We’re constantly thinking about how we in PM can devise innovative ways to enhance client experiences and streamline processes. Over the past year, we’ve made significant strides by substantially increasing the frequency of regular reports furnished to both sponsors and clients. Notably, for several studies, we now provide daily grading reports.

Our approach involves keen listening and comprehensive discussions with sponsors right from the initiation of a study. We delve into their objectives, strategizing on how our contributions can effectively lead to their realization. Simultaneously, we address any challenges that might occur, devising strategies to mitigate these obstacles. This communication framework seamlessly integrates the sponsor into the sphere of MERIT project management.

What Are Some Examples of MERIT PM’s Unique Approach?

Our proactive perspective is one of the things that defines our approach to managing clinical trials. We strive to anticipate potential challenges before they happen. We can pinpoint potential issues, often alleviating the need for sponsors to intervene. Given the number of clinical trials we support, we capitalize on insights gained from one study to enhance comparable studies.

A couple of examples:

  • We actively welcome questions and feedback from sponsors regarding our study documents. This engagement facilitates the ongoing refinement of our processes. For example, on average, our charter template sees 1-2 enhancements per week. This iterative approach ensures that our processes remain optimized and responsive to evolving needs.
  • Our PM expert team comprises seasoned professionals with extensive backgrounds in overseeing imaging clinical trials. Regular team meetings enable the exchange of insights across studies, allowing us to collectively recognize and tackle potential issues well ahead of time. This collective expertise strengthens our ability to proactively resolve challenges before they become significant roadblocks.

How Does MERIT’s PM Team Increase Site Engagement?

Our approach aims to enhance site engagement by providing rapid responses to site inquiries. Currently, our average Turnaround Time (TAT) for addressing support tickets is under 12 hours. This timeframe doesn’t solely refer to an automated acknowledgment; it signifies the total time to issue resolution, making it an accurate measure of our responsiveness. To remain proactive and pre-empt potential issues, we utilize the support ticket system to monitor trends and pinpoint areas of concern. This practice ensures that we stay ahead of challenges, fostering smoother operations.

Recognizing the importance of efficiency for sites, we’ve streamlined the process of uploading images into EXCELSIOR™ to under two minutes. This aligns with our commitment to making the site experience as seamless as possible, further contributing to successful site retention.

What Brought You to Clinical Research?

Sometimes, I can’t help but feel my journey into the world of clinical research was meant to be. My undergrad work was completed at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). But after graduating, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I ended up working for the state of Iowa (Department of Human Services), where I learned to love the intricate dance of interpreting and abiding by state and federal regulations. I didn’t realize that this experience would be a cornerstone for my future ventures into clinical trial management.

After a rewarding stint in social work, I landed a job at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as a study coordinator—a role that resonated deeply with me. The dynamic interactions with participants in a clinical trial setting fused my love for a regulatory framework with the pursuit of helping others.

When it comes to assembling our Project Management (PM) team, my compass always points toward individuals driven by the intrinsic desire to extend a helping hand. This spark unites every member of the PM team, forming a constellation of shared purpose. The remarkable stability and cohesion within our PM team reflect this shared motivation, a rare gem in a field that is always changing.

My World Outside of Work

My family and I live in the country just east of Madison, WI. Our property provides a haven where I frequently feed the local animals, particularly having a soft spot for stray cats (and opossums and skunks). My poor children are frequently dragged into my animal rescue efforts. Recently, I completed my master’s degree in project management, and in my downtime, I’m an avid reader. Each morning, my husband and I start the day with a brisk outdoor walk. This routine helps to clear my thoughts and serves as a platform to discuss work-related ideas with my enterprise consultant partner.

Additionally, my husband and I are involved in the renovation of an old church. Our aim is to transform it into affordable office space and a hub for tech startups. Our goal with this project is to contribute positively to our local community by enhancing access to the internet, computers, and career guidance.

Connect with Heather on LinkedIn