Oncologists are a hard group to reach. A study by consulting firm ZS Associates shows the wedge between oncologists and sales reps has gotten so large that it is the most restrictive specialty for the second year in a row.

The latest data indicate that 65% of US oncologists have moderate-to-severe access restrictions on sales rep visits, whereas around 58% of cardiologists and 47% of primary care physicians have hard-to-reach rules.

The annual oncologist check-in found that new drugs are a key way for reps to book time with doctors, and that reps touting a mix of old a new drugs also have a better chance of landing a sales meeting than those vying to discuss a drug with which oncologists are familiar but have nothing new to discuss.

The advantage conferred by product mix breaks down as follows: sales reps with at least one new product can see doctors just over 10 times per year, whereas reps with established products can see doctors just over seven times a year. Adding to the urgency of the findings is that the newness halo has a six-month lifespan, after which time the reps of formerly new drugs begin to lose their advantage and access shrinks by about 5%.

ZS Associates said the key to getting doctors to open their schedules for “old” and older drugs is to treat the medications like new ones and come up with new tools and presentations, as opposed to limiting the effort to a collateral refresh.

Ganesh Vedarajan, managing principal for oncology and specialty therapeutic practices, ZS Associates, said manufacturers can achieve this by thinking holistically about the practices reps are approaching and creating materials that address those needs. “It’s about helping the practice…not just about the specialist,” he said.

This means providing materials for office managers, nurses, caregivers and patients, in addition to information for the doctors themselves and to provide support that helps practices, particularly large scale ones, like hospitals with programs that can improve outcomes and quality.

Vedarajan added that the type of sales rep also makes a difference, and that drug makers could benefit from a sales force able to talk about medical topics, such as tumor types, as opposed to having a knowledge base that is limited to product information.