How COVID-19 Is Changing Clinical Trial Patient Travel

How COVID-19 Is Changing Clinical Trial Patient Travel

Posted by Mike Johnson


Mike-Johnson (1)

We recently sat down with BBK’s Director of RSG Services Mike Johnson to discuss how clinical trial patient travel has been impacted by COVID-19 and how BBK's travel program RSG® Arrive has responded.

Can you briefly describe RSG Arrive and how it supports clinical trial participation?

RSG Arrive is our clinical trial travel program that assists patients getting to and from their study appointments. It’s comprehensive and supports ground, air, and hotel arrangements as well as complex travel needs such as visa consultation and procurement, medical records translation, long-term housing, and medical travel assistance. RSG Arrive enhances patient access to care, removes barriers to participation, and fosters long-term engagement. We have a dedicated team of specialists that form our RSG Arrive concierge team. As you can imagine, they’ve had to pivot quite a bit lately as COVID-19 has introduced several new challenges.

Can you explain the importance of a centralized travel program like RSG Arrive during COVID-19?

COVID-19 has drastically changed everyday life – and clinical trials have not been exempt. We’ve seen trials suspended, others challenged by travel restrictions and site closures – and that’s obviously in addition to patient concerns about risk of exposure to the virus. But because RSG Arrive is flexible, we’ve been able to respond – and respond quickly! In many places, we’ve shifted from flights to ground transportation. We’ve supported patients who opt for long distance car service rather than run the risk of going to an airport and getting on a plane. We’ve even made arrangements for a patient to travel by ferry – although that’s a pretty unique situation.

We’ve been creative and responsive in helping sponsors navigate some of the challenges, including:

  • Coordinating interpreters for patients re-assigned to new sites.
  • Providing physician letters authorizing travel for patients in certain regions during lockdown.
  • Implementing enhanced safety measures for our ground transportation service – ensuring drivers adhere to CDC hygiene guidelines, disinfecting vehicles after each leg of a trip, removing printed materials, and so on).

There’s one particular scenario I’d like to mention because it’s really a success story made possible by the inspiring teamwork among the study sponsor, CRO, and BBK. And it shows how we’ve been able to support clinical trial sponsors in keeping their studies going.

We were supporting two families – one in South America and one in Asia – with travel back and forth to the U.S. Each family had a child enrolled in a study for a very rare disease called spinal muscular atrophy. But COVID-19 hit, making continued travel back and forth difficult, if not impossible, as countries went into lockdown. To ensure the patients remained compliant with the protocol, we quickly shifted our approach and arranged for long-term housing in the U.S. for each family. We put services in place to help each family adapt to their new environment – including a specialist dedicated to cultural acclamation. The fact that we were able to help these families continue study participation, uninterrupted, makes me feel very proud about all of our efforts.

Have travel programs had to evolve in response to COVID-19? Did you have to expand or modify RSG Arrive?

That’s a great question. We’ve recently introduced a new medication delivery service as part of RSG Arrive and we’re seeing tremendous interest from study sponsors. It’s a specialized service that delivers the study medication directly to a study participant’s home. Study staff just need to trigger a request in our patient experience management system TrialCentralNet®. It covers everything – temperature-controlled vehicles, removal of packaging following delivery and, if necessary, an instructional video helping to explain to patients how to administer the study medication.

We’re currently supporting a study site in Brazil with this new delivery service after the site had to close its doors to patients temporarily. In just the past few weeks, we’ve completed 11 medication deliveries to patients associated with this site.

We’ve also seen an uptick in interest in our RSG Meal program. It was designed to support caregivers in alleviating the daily burden of meal preparation – but we’re actually seeing a lot of interest in leveraging it to support study participants concerned about risk of COVID-19 exposure from grocery shopping.

But I’d just like to add that we’ve always been forward-thinking as a company and have always had solutions in place – it’s nice to see the industry readily adopting solutions that at their core enhance the patient experience and increase access to care.

Do you have any additional thoughts on how RSG Arrive can help clinical trial sponsors during COVID-19 and beyond?

Many often think of our RSG Arrive program as simply a service to book patient travel, but in these challenging times we have shown that our RSG Services team excels at innovative and out-of-the-box thinking and can provide strategic recommendations to Sponsors and CROs rapidly. The RSG Arrive program may be about getting a patient from A to B to ensure they can receive their care, but disruptions happen, and our team here at BBK is always prepared to adapt and respond to challenges that come our way. It has been inspiring to witness how hard the RSG Services team has worked over the past couple of months and I am happy to be a part of it.

Have a question about patient travel that you would like to see answered in a future blog post? Please email it to


To learn more about how BBK Worldwide is responding to the shifting landscape brought on by COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 and Beyond Resource Center.


Topics: Patient Travel, RSG Arrive, COVID-19, Mike Johnson, RSG Services, Clinical Trial Patient Travel