Cancer docs stiff-arm drug reps, despite influx of new meds

Pharma reps have grown accustomed to doctors closing the door on them. First, physicians complained that too many salespeople came calling. Then, critics started questioning whether doctors should see pharma reps at all. The sum? More "appointments-only" access--and no access, period.

Primary-care reps have certainly struggled to remain on their doctors' calendars. But as a new study from ZS Associates shows, drugmakers need to start worrying about reaching oncologists. So much research these days is focused on cancer drugs--and there's so much excitement in Big Pharma about targeted medicines for the disease--but the doctors who prescribe these treatments are increasingly hostile to drug reps.

In fact, among all the common medical specialties, oncology ranks as the most averse to rep visits. About 61% of cancer doctors put moderate-to-severe restrictions on rep visits, compared with 47% of cardiologists and 38% of primary care doctors.

"Sales reps equip oncologists with data on evolving science, access to financial assistance for patients, and help with reimbursement support and patient support materials," ZS Associates Principal Ganesh Vedarajan said. But, he noted, "[I]ncreased patient load and more time spent on reimbursement issues limit the time they have available."

Oncologists who do see reps parcel out their time carefully. Most oncology practices now require reps to make appointments in advance, ZS found. And most offer only two to three time slots per week, so there's plenty of competition for appointment times. Top reps may get in to see their oncologists fewer than a dozen times a year.

"With the increasingly number of approved oncology drugs and the active pipeline, properly introducing these therapies is going to get more complicated," ZS' Jon Roffman said. "Within just a few years, the average rep may be unable to meet with a doctor face-to-face more than four times a year."

- read the ZS release

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