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US oncologists least likely to see pharma sales reps

Regulatory constraints, limited time and alternative channels all have effect

Oncologists in the US are more likely to deny or restrict access to pharma sales reps than any other group of healthcare professionals, according to a new report, despite an increase in the number of cancer drugs reaching the market.

Consultants ZS Associates found that about 61 per cent of oncologists placed “moderate-to-severe restrictions” on visits from sales reps, compared to 47 per cent of cardiologists and 38 per cent of primary care physicians.

Overall, 65 per cent of all prescribers were measured as "accessible'' compared to just 39 per cent of oncologists, according to a survey published in ZS' spring 2012 AccessMonitor.

Reasons given for such limited access included regulatory constraints, increased numbers of patients and time constraints, with most practices now requiring reps to schedule appointments in advance and providing only two or three potential openings per week.

“Physicians are also able to access scientific data in real time through other channels,” noted Ganesh Vedarajan, principal and leader of the oncology and specialty therapeutics practice at ZS Associates.

The trend follows a 2011 survey sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) that found nearly eight out of 10 physicians view pharma companies and their sales reps as useful sources of information on prescription medicines.

ZS' survey is especially concerning news for pharma companies, given the continued importance of the cancer drug market, with oncology drugs accounting for 10 per cent of global pharma sales in 2011 and some 1,000 potential oncology medicines in the pipeline — almost twice the number in any other therapy area.

The report, which used sales-call reports from more than 200 different US pharma sales teams to examine how often 350,000 physicians and other prescribers meet with reps who visit them, also determined that 79 per cent of oncologists saw even the most successful reps only up to 12 times each year.

It's an issue that pharma companies need to address, said Jon Roffman, associate principal and leader of the oncology practice's field force strategy work at ZS.

“It's hard to be effective with so little interaction,” he said. “To meet this challenge, pharmacos must rethink their approach to engaging with this physician group.”

Changes suggested in the report include moving on from sending multiple sales reps to discuss the same product, and focusing instead on 'customer experience' by incorporating better understanding of a physician's needs and a more personal touch.

Sales model strategies must also evolve to consider those institutions that do not allow any sales reps at all, with an increase in the number of physician practices acquired by larger bodies, ZS said.

29th August 2012

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