Hartley Thompson, president of B-Line Medical, was hired as employee No. 12. He intended to stay a few years, then strike out on his own. But he found that he loved it there. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Reporter

I wish the subject of this week’s column existed before I underwent a root canal a decade ago.

The dentist attacked the wrong tooth. He found the correct one a few days later, after I returned feeling like Mike Tyson had KO’d me.

Medical mistakes: B-Line Medical is about catching them before they happen.

The company, nestled in a corner building a block off Dupont Circle, sells kits to medical and nursing schools so educators can film future doctors and nurses practicing on people or on wired-up dummies.

“When doctors and nurses are learning, they perform exercises with people pretending to be sick and mannequins that can do everything a human can do,” said B-Line Medical President Hartley Thompson. “They have to practice routinely so they don’t harm the real patients. We provide video equipment that records those interactions.”

Educators use the recordings, from B-Line’s “SimCapture” platform, as a teaching aid. A faculty member might use the software to check on whether students identified themselves to the patient, when they washed their hands and how they delivered good or bad news.

“Before, a professor or faculty member would have to stand in the room with a notepad,” said Thompson. “Now they can sit at home, watch in real time while the student is practicing and fill out the evaluation from the laptop.”

B-Line Medical products come in a briefcase — “the black box” — containing a laptop, portable cameras with microphones and a data-capture device. There also is a non-portable unit that can connect to cameras, microphones and gadgets already installed in a hospital or a simulation room and relay them to the Internet.

B-Line Medical’s 500 clients across 24 countries include most of the premier U.S. medical schools, such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Around Washington, George Washington University, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Medical Schools are B-Line Medical customers.

That’s only half the business.

B-Line Medical also sells a platform called “LiveCapture.” That involves filming doctors and nurses caring for patients. Hospitals using B-Line Medical can document events including operating-room activities, emergencies and routine hospital-room visits. The idea is to use the system to spot trouble and improve care.

Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Cleveland Clinic, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are among its customers.

The hard part is persuading medical staff to allow the cameras. Honestly, I cannot imagine a camera recording my interviews and listening in.

Thompson said that the Affordable Care Act prevents the use of the recordings in lawsuits, which helps allay physicians’ concerns. Hospitals can also institute procedures that protect physicians and nurses.

As for patient permission, Thompson said that most hospital patient-consent forms include a paragraph that informs people that their treatment is subject to being recorded.

B-Line Medical was founded in 2005 and has about 70 employees. It grossed well over $10 million last year, with a profit margin of 30 percent. About 80 percent of the business is in the United States. Most of the rest is in Australia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

B-Line has no debt, is cash positive and was founded by Chafic Kazoun and Lucas Huang.

Its products sell for $12,000 to $30,000 per unit, depending on the complexity. The more expensive the system, the more that instructors can accomplish. Some allow greater interaction with students, providing feedback, creating reports and debriefing classes. The LiveCapture model sells for around $30,000.

The average sale is about $100,000, Thompson said.

One of the most attractive parts of the business is its recurring revenue stream. About 93 percent of B-Line Medical’s customers have signed up for technology support. The support contract is priced at from 15 to 20 percent of the product’s price. So people who buy a $12,000 unit might pay $1,800 a year for the ability to summon B-Line Medical’s support team any time of the day or night. Thompson said that 99 percent of customers signing up renew those contracts.

Thompson grew up in the Bahamas, in Freeport. His easygoing nature belies his ambition. His parents pushed him early on to learn the importance of money and entre­pre­neur­ship.

His father has started various businesses. His mother owns an event-planning company.

“My dad really pushed me and my brothers to go out and make your own money,” he said. “At 8 years old, we started a window-washing and car-washing business.”

“I fell in love with just providing a service to somebody and a product and actually getting paid for it,” he said.

He attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on scholarship, graduating with a degree in management information systems.

Thompson joined B-Line Medical in 2007 as employee No. 12. The company was 18 months old. He found the job on CareerBuilder.com.

“We were not making money when I got here,” he said. “Like any start-up, we were having lean days. Some bills didn’t get paid.”

Thompson’s plan was to get experience, then start his own company in a few years. But he loved B-Line.

“I just showed a passion for the business and a hunger to take on more responsibility and keep learning,” said Thompson, who has a master’s degree in information management from the University of Maryland.

B-Line’s breakthrough came when its technology was purchased by Washington University in St. Louis and by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“When we landed those two, things started snowballing,” Thompson said.

Revenue jumped from the single-digit millions in 2009 to nearly $10 million in 2010 and is well beyond that now. Last year, the company’s revenue grew around 30 percent.

With a limited number of U.S. medical schools, the company’s biggest challenge is to expand revenue by coming up with new products. That includes upgrading old units and adding new options. There are also applications for B-Line technology in the legal, law enforcement and pharmaceutical training areas.

The company is in 130 of the 170 or so accredited medical schools in the United States.

“The biggest challenge is coming up with ways to innovate,” said Thompson. “There are a lot of new simulators coming out, and we want B-Line to be the hub for all of that data. That could hopefully lead to stronger revenue.”

Thompson takes me through the product development center. It is eerily quiet, a dimly lit and carpeted room with dark walls, where the product engineers — “the talent” — are working on creating B-Line’s next big breakthrough.

We pass a six-foot-high “Game of Thrones” castle, which says to me that I am among the techies.

“We give people a mission, and we really like to have fun,” Thompson said. “If you’re not having fun at work, there’s no point in coming.”