Eugene White, 87, was ‘revolutionary’ of clinical pharmacies

Eugene V. White, a small-town Virginia pharmacist whose innovations in record-keeping transformed American drugstores and helped pharmacists prevent potentially lethal drug interactions, died Dec. 9 at an assisted living facility in Berryville, Va. He was 87.

He had Shy-Drager Syndrome, a neurological disorder, said his daughter Lynda S. White.

(Courtesy of Stygar Group Inc.) - Eugene V. White, a small-town Virginia pharmacist whose innovations in record-keeping transformed American drug stores, putting pharmacists at the center of patient care and helping them prevent potentially lethal drug interactions, died Dec. 9 at an assisted living facility in Berryville, Va.

When Mr. White entered the pharmacy business in the 1950s, pharmacists were essentially second-class citizens in medicine. A code of ethics discouraged them from so much as discussing prescriptions with their patients. Medical care was considered the exclusive responsibility of physicians; pharmacists were supposed to fill prescriptions, no questions asked.

They were also expected to run what amounted to neighborhood general stores. Many drugstores, including the one Mr. White purchased in the Shenandoah Valley community of Berryville, also included lunch counters, with homemade pies and hand-dipped ice cream. Pharmacists spent as much time making root beer floats and ringing up candy as they did dispensing medicine.

Mr. White was credited with being among the first and most vocal advocates for developing a much higher standard of medical care. It proved “revolutionary,” said Alan B. McKay, the dean of the pharmacy school at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.

“He put the patient at the center of the pharmacy,” said McKay, adding that Mr. White probably saved many lives through his efforts to keep methodical records of his patients’ prescriptions.

Without such records, Mr. White realized, pharmacists could not prevent allergic reactions or dangerous drug interactions. He also noted a critical development in medicine: As patients began to consult multiple specialists, rather than a single family doctor, the need for a prescription clearinghouse became all the more critical.

“I predict in years to come medical progress will be so rapid and so complex, that it will be impossible for the physician to keep abreast of both the latest diagnostic techniques and the latest drugs,” he wrote in 1954, according to the Annals of Pharmacotherapy. “It will be impossible for the physician to continue in the dual role of diagnostician and prescriber.”

Through frequent speeches and his academic publications, including the influential 1978 handbook “The Office-Based Family Pharmacist,” Mr. White aggressively pushed for pharmacists to assume the role of record-keepers.

Today, computer software programs to track patient profiles are universally used by pharmacies, said Michael Posey, the editor of the publication Pharmacy Today.

In moving to a more professional standard, Mr. White made drastic changes to his shop that initially disrupted the way of life in Berryville. His pharmacy had been a gathering place for what had once been a two-stoplight community.

Banishing the soda fountain, said McKay, “broke a lot of people’s hearts.”

Mr. White removed the shelves where previous owners had sold Russell Stover candy, Hallmark cards, cosmetics and other wares. By the time he was done, the shop looked more like a doctor’s office than a drugstore. It had a waiting area with chairs.

Behind the counter were filing cabinets containing medicine as well as typed cards that Mr. White used to document the weight, allergies and drug history of his patients. He built a consultation room where he could meet privately with them.

When one local physician walked into the new office for the first time, the doctor removed his hat in respect, said Jim McKenney, a pharmacist who worked with Mr. White. Asked whether people in the town grew to like the new type of service, McKenney said, “Oh, my goodness, yes.”

Mr. White retired in 1998 and closed his shop because he was unable to find a buyer, his daughter said. His pharmacy is preserved as a museum exhibit and classroom at Shenandoah University.

He had little affection for chains such as CVS and Walgreens and Rite Aid, whose stores often devote significant floor space to nail polish, orange juice and Halloween costumes. Yet even those franchises have adopted some of his ideas, including private consultation rooms for patient counseling.

Eugene Vaden White was born Aug. 13, 1924, in Cape Charles, Va. After serving in the Army and the Army Air Forces during World War II, he received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1950 from the Medical College of Virginia (now part of Virginia Commonwealth University).

His professional awards included the prestigious Remington Honor Medal from the American Pharmacists Association.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Laura LaFontaine White of Berryville; two daughters, Lynda S. White of Keswick, Va., and Patricia L. White of Berryville; a sister, Pauline W. Stevens of Fredericksburg; a brother, Dr. David A. White Sr. of Studley, Va.; and two grandchildren.

Mr. White once weighed in on an annoyance that continues to dog pharmacists: doctors’ chicken-scratch handwriting.

“Sometimes the doctor just picks up a blank form in the hospital and scrawls something,” he told The Washington Post in 1987. “Then we have to ask the patient, ‘Who is the doctor?’ Sometimes the patient doesn’t know, either. Then we’re up a creek.”