From the NBA to Medtech: How One Player Changed the Game, and Lives
He was a first-round draft pick; a teenage millionaire; Kevin Durant before there even was a Kevin Durant. A star on the basketball court at the precocious age of 18, he was a player blessed with a center’s height (6’11”) and a guard’s game.
Drafted straight out of high school by the Indiana Pacers, Jonathan Bender was a prodigy in the making: he broke Michael Jordan’s McDonald’s All American Game scoring record, had a 39-inch vertical leap, and was foreseen to become the next Magic Johnson.
But his career was sadly short-lived due to one thing: chronic knee pain. Due to what Bender believes was an abnormal growth spurt during his teenage years, his knee pain winnowed down his seasons: from 46 games in the 2002-03 season to 21 the near, to seven, to two. By his sixth season, Bender could barely make it down a flight of stairs.
Jonathan Bender retired from the NBA in 2006, at the ripe age of 25.
A Million-Dollar Idea
Bender always knew that basketball would not be long-term. In fact, he admired business tycoons such as Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan and was enthralled by the success Mel Simon had found outside of the NBA.
“I was on the beginning of my path, and basketball was a stepping-stone. Basketball was my endgame before when I was in high school,” Bender told Fansided in a recent interview. “When I got there and started looking at the businesspeople and the game that really mattered, it wasn’t my endgame anymore. I had a new one.”
After a few investments panned out, ultimately leading to losses, Bender struck a million-dollar idea while people-watching at a public park in Houston: a training and rehab device that would improve the way people walked.
As reported by The Star in June of this year:
Slumped on a park bench in Houston one afternoon shortly after leaving Indiana, Bender watched runners and walkers stroll by, and a light bulb went off in his head.
He raced to Walgreens, then to Home Depot, then to Sports Authority. ("Picture a 6-11 guy walking up and down every aisle for like an hour," he said.) He bought electrical tape, rubber bands, zip ties, ankle braces, metal rods and wire cutters. He went home, slapped together what he'd sketched out in his head, and asked his girlfriend, Bernice, to come into the room.
"Try this on," he told her.
She looked at it and laughed.
"It looked like garbage," Bender admits.
Bender didn’t know anything about medical devices, but after years of dealing with bad knees, he knew there had to be a better way to avoid injury.
His prototype, when completed, looked like a weightlifting belt with a pair of rear-facing resistance bands dangling from the bottom.
Naming it the JB Intensive Trainer, Bender worked on his invention extensively for a number of years.
He spent two years testing it by having his friends use it while they worked out then took it to undergo research studies at Purdue University. Researchers there determined that it did in fact offer lower-joint relief while easing pressure on the knees and building strength in the quads, hamstrings and calves.
After working out with his invention for a full year, Bender felt confident in the renewed strength in his knees and at age 28, decided to return to the NBA.
A Second Chance with the New York Knicks
Upon announcing his decision to give the NBA another shot, Bender spoke with ESPN to explain his comeback.
“I didn’t want the windows to close on me,” Bender told ESPN in 2009. “I wanted the opportunity to fight off the demons inside my head … I read these articles that say, ‘He’s the top bust’ or ‘He’s one of the guys who didn’t live up to their potential.’ I don’t want to be 38 or 40 looking back thinking, ‘I should’ve done this.’”
Bender had kept in close contact with Donnie Walsh after leaving the NBA the first time, and as the current GM of the New York Knicks, Walsh decided to give Bender a tryout.
Impressed by what he saw, Walsh signed Bender to a contract midway through the 2009-10 season. In 25 games, Bender averaged 4.7 points in 11.7 minutes.
Knicks’ doctors were equally as impressed with Bender’s renewed success and after putting him through a battery of strength tests, learned that Bender had the most lower-body power of any player on the team.
Bender was offered a chance to return to the game the following season, but Bender turned it down, telling Sports Illustrated, “Even though I knew the money would be good, it just felt like I’d be going backwards.”
Success with a New Company
With renewed focus on his invention, Bender invested in refining the design of his JBIT, finding an overseas manufacturer and researching distribution channels. In July 2013, the renamed JBIT Med Pro, hit the market.
Partnering with brick-and-mortar stores like Relax The Back and an affiliate network of people and online business helped propel Bender’s company’s, JB3 Innovations, revenue growth of 40 percent month over month since December.
But that was just the beginning.
In October of this year, Bender’s company announced that they have seen an exponential 5,000 percent growth over the past 18 months. Additionally, the device is winning over the opinions of those in the medical field.
Bender’s company recently finalized a partnership with University General Hospital Systems, Inc., in Houston and Dallas, and netted a spokesman in the company’s CEO, Dr. Hassan Chahadeh, according to IndyStar.
Bender, who married over the summer, runs the entire operations from his laptop, with order fulfillment and customer service handled by third parties. Most of Bender’s customers are baby boomers, with some NBA and NFL players also using the device. But Bender expects the sports industry customer end of his business to pick up with the release of a second device he is working on, one that will be targeted for serious athletes.
Bender, now 33, isn’t surprised by the company’s success, as he told Forbes earlier this year, “My vision was always way ahead of the curve.”
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.