Health Team

Banjo-picking doctor cares about patients

Posted February 9, 2011 4:04 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2011 6:38 p.m. EST

— A doctor at UNC Hospitals is determined to do away with cold, impersonal medicine and to make his patients feel special – even if it means bringing along his banjo.

"I hate for people to be just a patient or a case, so I try to always find out who the person is," cardiologist David Tate said.

Tate picks his banjo – signed by legendary Earl Scruggs – as part of the band Fescue 911. He also puts on impromptu concerts for patients to lift their spirits.

Bob Bergstand, 90, has been the audience for many bluegrass concerts while being treated for a urinary tract infection. He joked that he hopes they don't show up on his bill.

"I couldn't afford them all," said Bergstand.

Fescue 911 fiddler Jan Johannson was also once in Bergstand's position, as a patient of Tate who was receiving a portable heart pump.

"I was feeling pretty lonely, and all of a sudden, the door opens, and here is David (Tate) with some of his friends," Johannson said.

Tate said he tailors his concerts to the patient's personal interests.

"Depending on the spirit of things, sometimes we'll play a spiritual. Sometimes we'll play a hoe-down," he said.

If a patient doesn't appreciate banjo music, Tate will change his methods. He's been known to bring his putting green into the room of a patient who's a fellow avid golfer.

The special attention helps patients forget about their sterile surroundings and illness, if only for a few minutes, he said.

"If I can use music as a way to do that, I'll do it, and I'll get a lot more out of it than they do, I'm quite certain," Tate said.

He said that getting know patients as individuals can also help physicians make better decisions about their care.