The number of physicians in hospitals and practices barring commercial visits from pharmaceutical reps is climbing, according to SK&A's latest Market Insight Report. Doctors who designated themselves as "no access" to these visits jumped from 36.5 percent to 40.6 percent over a 14 month period from June 2016 to August 2017, the report showed.
SK&A started tracking this trend in 2010, and in 2011 "no access" declarations sat at just under 23 percent. The study analyzed completed telephone interviews with 300,000 U.S. medical sites representing about 760,000 doctors. The data included practice office hours, appointment requirements, languages spoken, practice ownership, size, location and other intelligence.
The trend has steadily risen under the pressure of physicians' practice demands and corporate policies limiting in-person calls. The prevalence of no-access is greater in physician practices that are owned or managed by hospitals, health systems and larger physician's offices because powerful entities exert more control over product uptake and treatment protocol across their networks.
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Specifically, 57 percent of physicians who work in practices owned by hospitals are no access, a number that increased 4 percent over the 14 months period and more than 16 percent since 2013. The next biggest figure came from health-system owned physician practices, where a little more than 55 percent banned commercial visits from pharma reps.
Drilling down into specialties, general surgeons had the least time for pharma reps, with the highest no-see rate at 48.6 percent, followed by internists at 38.7 percent. Family doctors have gotten stricter over the last four years, with an 18.9 percent no access rate in 2013 rising to 32.2 percent as of August 2017.
"No-access to physicians has doubled since 2010, the early days of network consolidation as well as federal sunshine reporting. At this rate we forecast that by the end of 2019, 50 percent of all physicians will restrict face-to-face sales engagements, opening the pathway to more digital communications," SK&A said.
In the face of growing complaints about the high cost of drugs, it is possible that hospitals are cracking down on these visits to avoid the appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest between physicians and big pharma. There is also intense scrutiny, now more than ever, on rates of physician error. While it is unlikely that a physician would literally step away from a patient to take such a meeting, hospitals may feel the need to mandate the minimization of such distractions from patient care.