“[Our customers] expect old-fashioned service, not in the sense it’s outdated, but in the sense of being courteous, polite, and going above and beyond what people expect.”
As these modern times bring about a dizzying amount of change, communities are anchored by landmarks that contain history and symbolism. For Austin, TX, Tarrytown Pharmacy holds over 75 years’ worth of memories while it paves the way to a healthier, more innovative future. Mark and Leslie Newberry, owners of Tarrytown, continue their family’s legacy in every aspect of the store, from the unique front-end display of seasonal boutique items that greet you at the door to the smiling faces of the staff behind the pharmacy counter. For over three generations, Tarrytown Pharmacy has been a staple to its neighborhood. Some of the store’s earliest patrons still shop there, along with their children and grandchildren. “Tarrytown is a pillar of a time that’s lost,” describes Rannon Ching, pharmacist-in-charge.
Despite the idealism of the past, present-day reality has manifested in the form of two other independent pharmacies in Austin closing within the past year. This has confirmed what Mark and Rannon have known for years: traditional dispensing will no longer be a means of profit for pharmacy. On the other hand, staying in tune with the patients’ needs and adapting to meet those needs is how Tarrytown Pharmacy has become a mainstay of its community. Rannon’s passion for pharmacy is deeply rooted within his childhood. While growing up in Oahu, he spent many afternoons watching how his uncle, an independent pharmacist, interacted with his patients. “A lot of times, his patients were from a low socioeconomic area, so they really couldn’t afford their medications at certain times of the month. So, he would barter with them, especially in the rural part of Hawaii where they’d bring him eggs, chickens, and pigs. He really became a pillar in that community,” he reflects. “Here in Tarrytown, it has the same feeling of my uncle’s pharmacy, but in Austin.” For Rannon, independent pharmacy sets itself apart from other facets of healthcare because of the relationships pharmacies build with their patients. “I knew I could never work in a basement looking at orders all day. I had to have some sort of patient contact or relationships and really care for the entirety of their lives.”
These relationships enhance the care that Rannon and his team offer their patients. Alongside that care, he and Mark have been focused on diversifying their services and tailoring them to Tarrytown’s needs. Point-of-care testing has been a huge game-changer, and it has proven to be mutually beneficial for both the pharmacy and patients who are interested in avoiding busy doctors’ offices and urgent care clinics. Point-of-care testing is especially valuable to the school across the street from the pharmacy. If a child shows signs of flu or strep throat, a quick test will confirm the diagnosis, and the full-time nurse on staff at Tarrytown can prescribe the appropriate medication that can be dispensed just a few feet away. Rannon has also expanded his vaccinations and offers a mobile flu shot clinic to local businesses. “It’s all about convenience, but it’s also about access,” Rannon explains. “I’m a big proponent of access to healthcare and resources.” Making these services available is one side of the matter, but being reimbursed for them is a different aspect that presents a challenge to pharmacists.
This all points to cash-based services, a practice he finds vital to maintaining profitability. “Pharmacists are so good at giving things away for free,” he observes. “Why can’t we value our time? If we value our time, that is going to allow patients to understand the reason we charge for it.” If pharmacists don’t know their own worth, then patients, providers, and payers probably don’t know either. With organizations like CPESNⓇ urging pharmacists to diversify and expand their services, Rannon feels that every pharmacy should be offering medication synchronization. Tarrytown’s med sync program has grown so much that Rannon had to assign a technician the sole responsibility of managing the project. “I see a world where you do your med sync call, and while you’re on the phone, you go ahead and screen for chronic care management, answer questions, and perform adherence checks. I want to see payers paying for that,” Rannon says. “Changing people’s perceptions of what we can do and what we can offer is huge.” Enhanced services like these prove pharmacies aren’t just dispensaries anymore.
None of these practices are effective without communication. One of the defining qualities of independent pharmacy is the relationships between patients and the pharmacy staff. “Communication with patients can always be tough,” Rannon admits. “I believe asking them questions and talking with them always helps.” He remembers a transition of care visit with a patient in an assisted living facility whose negative side effects left her lethargic and feeling hopeless. “She told me, ‘I had a good run. I’m ready to call it quits.’ That made me really uncomfortable, but I explained that these side effects would wear off in a week or two, and I urged her to give it time.” A week after their conversation, Rannon returned to the facility and found his patient had dramatically improved. As they talked, she said, “I feel so much better. I’m actually able to do the things I enjoy, and I’m in a much better place now than I was then. Thank you for getting me through that.” Success stories like this push Rannon to follow up with his patients and connect with them on an impactful level. “That continuity of care is what pharmacy means to me,” he asserts. Rannon also knows the value of building relationships outside the pharmacy. Between mentoring pharmacy students at the University of Texas and attending conferences, he’s always willing to strike up a conversation about the industry. “I’d love to see independents collaborating and sharing ideas to push things forward,” he shares. “We really have an opportunity to show our worth within the profession and within the healthcare system.” As Rannon and the rest of his team maintain the timeless standards of care at Tarrytown Pharmacy, he is keeping a weather eye on the horizon for innovations and practices that will shape the future of pharmacy.