Overburdened oncologists: How pharma marketers can thrive by taming the data deluge

Pharma is becoming a victim of its own success in oncology. Striving to keep pace with the progress of the industry’s well-stocked pipeline, oncologists are facing information overload on top of the continued fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressures are creating a need for new marketing strategies.   

ZoomRx, a healthcare consulting firm, set out to understand how marketers can reach and support the physicians who prescribe cancer drugs by analyzing data from multiple sources, including 10 interviews with physicians, more than 80,000 pharma-oncologist interactions, reports of digital behavior and 380 conversations between healthcare professionals and patients.

The analysis revealed an aging, increasingly burned-out workforce. Oncologists are pulling double and triple shifts to cope with staff shortages that have intensified since the start of the pandemic. And with 22% of oncologists nearing retirement, the situation could get worse before it gets better.

Facing those pressures, oncology patients have the lowest share of voice in HCP interactions. The little time that oncologists do spend talking to patients focuses on test results and treatment options, ZoomRx found, for example by explaining the implications of the discovery of microsatellite instability in prostate cancer or the FLT3-ITD mutation in leukemia.

The oncologist interviews showed that overstretched oncologists find it hard to keep up with the torrent of new cancer medicines, label expansions and treatment guidelines. One community oncologist said it feels like “there's new stuff coming out every week, multiple times a week on some TKI or monoclonal for some indication, which has a name I've not heard before.”

Information overload represents a problem and an opportunity. ZoomRx identified more than 100 drugs that oncologists saw advertised online last year. No ad accounted for more than 6% of exposure. That is the problem—and a spur to find new ways to stand out.

The opportunity lies in the support pharma companies can provide. Oncologists value reps’ knowledge of products, leading ZoomRx to identify benefits to prioritizing product training, and are more likely to prescribe products after using visual aids such as dosing and admin guides. ZoomRx found community oncologists are particularly influenced by visual aids.