Ninety-eight percent of the doctors surveyed in an SK&A study said up to 20 sales reps visit their practices each week, while total access to docs during 2009 increased by a fraction.

The largest change from December 2008 to December 2009 was in the number of physicians saying they prefer or require an appointment. According to the survey, 38.5% of docs said appointments were required or preferred in December 2008, compared with 49.6% in December 2009.

“Dramatic growth” in the appointments category happened for several reasons, said Jack Schember, director of marketing at SK&A. Appointments provide “better physician-rep engagement and quality of learning when physicians have set aside time for uninterrupted meetings,” said Schember, adding that docs in smaller offices are busy and don’t have time for walk-in reps. A third reason for the increase has to do with doctors in larger offices owned by medical groups or health systems that are “governed by the policies of their corporate owners,” said Schember.

The survey also found a correlation between the number of doctors in a practice, rate of access and the need for an appointment. To wit: the more docs in a single practice, the less access and more appointments needed, according to the survey. Practices with 10 or more docs, for example, denied access to reps 42.1% of the time, and the same offices required appointments at a rate of 54.9%. Offices with only one or two physicians barred reps at a rate of 13.4%, and required appointments 41.7% of the time.

Although practices with a lot of physicians were less accessible to reps, offices that saw greater numbers of patients were more open to reps, according to the survey. Physicians that saw 31 to 40 patients on a single day only blocked access to reps at a frequency of 13.6%, compared to a rejection rate of 28.9% among docs that saw 10 or fewer patients per day.

“Access” to physicians, as defined by the SK&A survey, means “a rep was granted entrance to the office and allowed to 1) drop materials or 2) see a physician face to face, or 3) see another prescriber such as a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner,” said Schember.