In this time of radical innovation in medicine, it is all the more important to "treat the patient," Dr. Eric Topol, a leader in the field of advancing health care through technology, advised the graduating class of Baylor College of Medicine Tuesday.

"Even though we have this exciting time in medicine – radical innovation – we need doctors with compassion, with empathy and bedside manner who are great communicators, who have healing touch," he told the graduates. "And those qualities will be all the more important in the digital medical era when we need to avoid treating the scan, the DNA, the lab test, and the biosensor data – to treat the patient."

Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, spoke at the commencement ceremony for 203 graduates. Of those, 45 received doctoral degrees and 158 received medical degrees.

Honorary degrees

At the ceremony, BCM President and CEO Dr. Paul Klotman presented four honorary degrees – to Laura Arnold, co-chair of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation; Morton Hyman, chair of the board of the Sabin Vaccine Institute; Dr. Jacqueline Barton, chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology; and Topol.

"These honorees were thoughtfully selected to serve as examples for you of the kind of leaders we have prepared you to become," Klotman told the graduates. "Each has achieved phenomenal things in their lives that have enriched their personal and professional communities. Just like you, each of them began their careers with goals and dreams and turned them into reality."

Creating better health care

Topol, author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine," a new book that outlines how the digital revolution will create better health care, noted the many changes in technology that improve the care of patients.

"In old mass medicine we treat all patients with the same diagnosis with the same drug, at the same dose, and we do screening tests for all patients for a condition even though only a tiny fraction are even at risk," he said.

He presented examples to illustrate the state of medicine, including successful treatment through DNA analysis and genome sequencing, self-monitoring by patients through cell phone apps that provide significant amounts of information to the physician and his own story of not being able to reach his physician during a painful condition.

His recounted his experience to illustrate the continuing need for the personal touch, even in this digital medical era.

"Your role will be progressively morphed into providing guidance, wisdom and experience on how to transform data and information to knowledge and judgment," Topol said. "A new emerging partnership in medicine without the historic information asymmetry. Without the high priests, paternalism, and Doctor Knows Best attitude."

Leaders in science, medicine

Klotman spoke to the graduates about their preparation to be leaders in science and medicine.

"You will be responsible for improving the lives of your fellow man and advancing the scientific knowledge of our world," he said. "Few careers offer such absolute certainty of purpose. You will have the privilege of knowing that each and every day you are doing something worthwhile and important for society. Our world needs leaders like you who will embrace a future filled with opportunities and tackle challenges in medicine and science."

He emphasized the importance of leadership.

"Today you become alumni of an institution that places tremendous value on collaboration, integrity, professionalism and innovation," Klotman said. "Find mentors throughout your career and envision the legacy you will leave behind."

Examples of leadership

Klotman presented the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities in Medicine to Arnold and Hyman.

He spoke of the Arnold Foundation's principles of producing substantial, widespread and lasting reforms that will maximize opportunities and minimize injustice in our society.

"Laura Arnold is a woman with tremendous passion for preventing injustice in our world. Her compassion, her dedication and her unending desire to make substantive changes have impacted people both locally and nationally. She is a tireless advocate and a voice for those whose cries for help often go unheard."

In outlining Hyman's four decades of service to improve public health and advance academic medicine, Klotman singled out his efforts with the Sabin Vaccine Institute and his role in move the vaccine development group to BCM and Texas Children's Hospital.

"His visionary role in this collaboration is propelling development of vaccine delivery for neglected diseases around the world and is establishing Houston as a leader in global medicine."

Klotman also presented the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters in Medicine to Barton and Topol.

Creativity, innovation

Noting that Barton received the National Medal of Science in 2010 for her outstanding research, he said she is described by trainees as someone who "conveys the importance of creativity and imagination in science."

He described her discovery that cells use the double stands of the DNA helix like a wire for long-range signaling among proteins within a cell as "promising research that may offer greater understanding of how cells detect and repair DNA defects that are related to ordinary conditions like aging and complex diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer."

Klotman identified Topol as "a trailblazer in the movement to modernize medical treatment through the latest technology. He is creating new, more effective ways to treat patients with a goal of dramatically reducing the costs of medical care."

"Dr. Topol is clearly one of the most innovative physician scientists today. His development of new technologies to enhance the practice of medicine will have a lasting impact on both translational research and the care of patients. We will all benefit from his pioneering work."

Also at the ceremony, Ashley Ramirez-Herrick spoke as a representative of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Amy Pearlman spoke on behalf of the medical school graduates.