That’s a question that weighed heavily on Jeroen Van de Velde. As a Belgian citizen living in France and working in Luxembourg for a large health insurance company serving expatriates, he saw the challenge up close. “I realized it was extremely difficult for expatriates or even travelers to get access to high-quality healthcare and find good providers,” Van de Velde says. “A lot of people who work for global companies move from country to country, and they’re missing a consistent way to find healthcare. In many cases, there’s also a language barrier.”
In his research, Van de Velde did not find a good global healthcare solution that people could rely on to search for providers. “There were some regional and national medical search platforms, but no global ones,” he says.
Seeing an opportunity and a need, he started Medihoo, a global platform designed especially for expatriates and international travelers so they can easily locate providers and receive high-quality healthcare. “It’s difficult to define quality, so from our perspective, it had to start with transparency and accessibility,” Van de Velde says. “More than just a list of providers and ratings, Medihoo had to include everything from information on a facility’s cleanliness to the actual treatment received.”
Looking for global scalability—on a limited budget
Van de Velde knew that building the Medihoo platform was going to be a major challenge, given the company’s small size. “As a startup, we don’t have any developers, and we had a very limited IT budget,” he says. “But somehow, we still had to find powerful and scalable search technology to make this a reality. To execute our vision, we needed to find a technology partner.”
That partner turned out to be RealDolmen, a large Belgian IT solution provider and Microsoft partner with 12 Gold and 7 Silver competencies. RealDolmen recommended that Medihoo deploy its solution on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. “They had limited resources, but they wanted to scale the solution globally and make sure they could continue scaling as the solution grew and added more healthcare provider information,” says Rik Delva, Project Manager, RealDolmen. “That’s why we recommended Azure. It supports the ‘start small, scale fast’ scenario Medihoo needed, and helps them keep operational costs low.”
Deploying a powerful solution that searches more than 4 million providers
RealDolmen also recommended that Medihoo take advantage of Azure Search, a solution that developers can use to integrate robust search functionality into their applications. “Azure Search provided search-as-a-service, which was critical for Medihoo because it doesn’t have the staff to maintain virtual machines or clusters,” Delva says. “They don’t want to have to worry about things like making upgrades and fixes to a cluster.”
Medihoo was also impressed with the search capabilities of Azure Search. “We wanted to provide customers with an experience similar to what they have on the enterprise search engines they’re used to,” says Van de Velde. “That meant offering sophisticated features like relevance and search suggestions, and Azure Search is robust enough to offer that.” Van de Velde was also interested in the way Azure Search can easily tune results and create detailed ranking models. “Ranking and search refinements are critical for our solution, and we knew Azure Search could support that,” he says.
Another key Azure Search feature was its geospatial support. “That’s essential for Medihoo, because the solution needs to search the nearest providers and pinpoint them on a map,” says Toon De Coninck, Microsoft Azure Software Engineer at RealDolmen. “All of that information, along with providers’ pictures, is indexed in Azure Search.” Support in multiple languages was also critical for Medihoo. “The solution needs to support five languages, with more in the future, and Azure Search can deliver that,” says De Coninck.
RealDolmen worked with Medihoo to develop a search platform containing a database with 4.2 million healthcare providers worldwide, 70,000 hospitals, and 2,000 different healthcare specialties and subspecialties. The platform incorporates Azure Web Roles to host the front-end website, and it uses Azure Worker Roles to index the data from a SQL Database to the Azure Search index. The solution also includes Azure Blob and Table Storage to store data.
Delivering a scalable, highly available platform
With its Azure-based solution, Medihoo can scale to support expected future growth. “With Microsoft Azure, we have a lot of confidence that we can scale the system to add many more healthcare providers,” says Van de Velde. “There is a lot of room to grow.” The solution also ensures high availability especially for expatriates and travelers searching the system around the clock, no matter where they are. “The fact that Azure has data centers around the world means we have the ability to process search requests close to the user’s geographic location and deliver a highly available experience at all times,” says Delva. “That global availability was one of the biggest reasons we went with Azure.”
Finding a competitive advantage through ultra-fast search
Because Azure Search supports fast search indexing and querying, Medihoo can offer its users the high-performance search capabilities they need. “We’re seeing queries come back in about 200 milliseconds, which is many times faster than we saw using a relational database technology,” says Van de Velde. “We are continuing to test the indexing and querying results, and we’re very satisfied with the speed of the solution.”
As a result, Medihoo users can find the right match for their specific healthcare needs. “The speed and performance of Azure Search are a huge competitive advantage for us,” Van de Velde says. “If users don’t find the right healthcare provider quickly, they’ll turn to other search platforms. This technology helps us deliver search results fast and offers us the detailed search capabilities that are giving our users exactly what they need.”
Helping to improve the quality of healthcare
The Medihoo platform is also helping people guide others to high-quality care, through the use of six-question satisfaction surveys. Medihoo uses an Azure Search algorithm to generate each healthcare provider’s overall score, pushing the highest-rated providers up in the ranking. “Our motto is ‘Let’s Share Good Care,’ so we don’t want people to be negative,” says Van de Velde. “We are trying to motivate expatriates and others to suggest good healthcare providers. By filling out the satisfaction survey, a user can choose to highly recommend a provider, which really helps the overall Medihoo community find the best care possible.”
The surveys are helping healthcare providers, too, by providing quality-care benchmarks. “The satisfaction information isn’t just there for people searching for providers—it’s also for the providers themselves, because the surveys can be important indicators of where they stand in terms of quality,” says Van de Velde. “They are listening to what their patients are saying, and if the surveys give them a better understanding of the areas they might want to improve. It’s all about improving the quality of healthcare globally, which is our primary goal.”
Meeting users’ need for multiple languages
Medihoo will also be able to meet the language needs of its users as the solution expands. “We currently support English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and German, and we will be able to add Portuguese and Turkish in the near future with the Azure Search indexing and search technology,” says Van de Velde. “This is key for us, because if there is a Spanish-speaking person living in China, that person still needs to be able to search in Spanish. That’s the kind of complexity we need to offer, and Azure Search supports it.”
That complexity will also help Medihoo make the solution even more powerful. “We will be able to offer even greater detail, such as giving users the opportunity to filter their search to just show Dutch-speaking providers who are open at a specific hour, for example,” says Van de Velde. “We also expect to use Azure for predictive analysis of the traffic on the site. We’re very excited about these initiatives, and we are pleased to have chosen the right technology and the right partner to make it all possible.”