If you ask Patrick Tabon what he does for a living, chances are the answer you get will be something like, “patient advocate who focuses on solutions that benefit everyone,” or “the medication expert on the team that looks at safety and big-picture treatment plans.” Or you might even get, “passionate and caring co-worker who is always there to help my patients, teammates, profession, and other providers.”

Yes, you guessed it, Patrick Tabon works in health care. But what might seem less obvious from these descriptions is that he is not a medical doctor (MD). He is a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD).

Yep, Patrick Tabon is a pharmacist.

The role of the pharmacist as medication expert has been expanding as the landscape of medicine moves toward personalization with genome mapping and drug targeting with nanoparticles, and as technology is further integrated into the processes of providing care with informatics and big data. So job descriptions for pharmacists are increasingly more like those offered by Tabon, and less like the apothecary/soda fountain of generations past.

Tabon graduated from Washington State University (WSU) College of Pharmacy in 2012. He completed a post-graduate pharmacy residency in acute-care at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle before moving to California. Tabon holds board certifications in pharmacotherapy and geriatric pharmacy, and has supervised pharmacy teams in charge of specialty care programs including oncology, HIV and geriatrics.

Tabon, more specifically, is a clinical pharmacist, which means the scope of his work surrounds providing care to patients. Examples of pharmacist-provided care include medication review and optimization, disease prevention (immunizations), disease state management (diabetes education and management), and care for minor ailments (minor allergic reaction or strep throat testing).

Tabon currently works for Monarch Healthcare in Irvine, California, where he manages about 150 patients enrolled in the organization’s heart failure disease management program. The program provides education to patients and family members on how to manage congestive heart failure and emphasizes the importance of medication adherence in managing their various disease states.

“On average, my patients are on six or more medications, have multiple chronic disease states, and lack the resources needed to understand and better their care. It is my responsibility to be there for them, to comfort them, and help them navigate through the confusing health care system,” Tabon said.

Learning to Use Telemedicine to Improve Patient Care
There is another unique aspect of Tabon’s work, and that is his use of technology to provide care.

“All of my patient interactions and relationships with patients have been over the phone. It is the most efficient way to connect with more patients,” he says.

He works with patients after they have been discharged from the hospital. Tabon works with them, so they are empowered to play an active role in their treatment and recovery. His focus is to keep his patients at home recovering safely and returning to their quality of life as swiftly as possible.

Not properly following medication and rehabilitation therapy regimens post-hospitalization is a big contributor to readmission, which is a term used to describe a situation where a recovering patient is sent home but his or her condition worsens to the point they must return to the hospital.

“Driving 20 miles to make a home visit might take a few hours on account of traffic in Southern California. That means we would only be able to do maybe three visits a day,” Tabon said. This is why he is looking into various technologies in order to better serve his patients.

“We are looking into things like videoconferencing,” says Tabon. “I mean, it would be cool to FaceTime with patients, but most of our geriatric patients have never used the technology before so getting them engaging with these features has been a struggle. We want to make our process user-friendly and as streamlined as possible. There is a lot of lessons to learn but I look forward to the challenge of finding new ways to connect to our senior population in Orange County.”

Patrick TabonFor Tabon, what he looks forward to in his work is when a patient says thank you for being helpful.

“It reminds you that what you’re doing is right,” he says.

Tabon’s passion and drive to increase access to quality health care inspired his director of pharmacy to nominate him for a 2016 Optum National Superhero Award. OptumHealth, Inc is a national management services company that specializes in health care systems. Its Superhero recognition is how Optum honors excellence in patient care, innovations, developing relationships with patients, giving back to the community, and exemplifying Optum’s cultural values. Tabon is the first pharmacist within Monarch Healthcare to receive the award.

Tabon also collaborated on an innovations project and presented an idea for OptumCare’s 2016 Clinical Transformation Challenge for Innovation, which won first place nationally. Monarch Healthcare, where Tabon works, is part of the OptumCare network. Now OptumCare is working to bring this collaborative idea to life and actually transform health care for the better. What exactly is his idea? He can’t talk about it yet, he says.

Paying It Forward
Tabon is from the town of Kihei on the island of Maui. He completed his bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He chose to go to pharmacy school at WSU because of the strong culture of community and caring that the program has, he says.

“I felt a connection to WSU as a student and even now am proud to help the College of Pharmacy as an alumni. It is a lifelong bond and a sense of pride you gain from going to a school that focuses on caring for the people and community you live in,” said Tabon.

Tabon continues to be involved with WSU by serving as the co-regional coordinator in California for the CougaRx Nation, which is the College of Pharmacy’s alumni community. He also participates in the college’s alumni-student mentor program.

“I don’t think I would have found my way through the profession without my mentors. Now, I pay it forward,” said Tabon.

Through the mentor program, Tabon is helping student pharmacists to get and stay connected, and to find their own career path. The program pairs each Doctor of Pharmacy student with a current pharmacy professional to provide a professional support network for future Cougar pharmacists. Connecting students to thought-leaders and industry innovators like Tabon is just one of the ways the WSU College of Pharmacy provides a transformative educational experience and develops practice-ready graduates who will lead tomorrow’s health care solutions.

“It is rewarding to see a student grow over time, to see that lightbulb click and watch them go after it,” said Tabon. “Mentoring is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of my career, don’t even need a paycheck for it!”

[Lori J. Maricle] 5/31/2017