Solving Document Distribution for ARA

Kevin Hamer, Innovation Engineer
Posted on Jan 24, 2018

Imagine you run a medical organization that needs to maintain a consistent set of policies, procedures and documentation across hundreds of clinics. Being health-related, access control of these documents is critical. Making sure employees can access documentation isn’t just nice-to-have – it’s important to your patient’s well-being.

This is American Renal Associates’ situation. Knowing the success we had building a collaborative intranet site for JetBlue, ARA asked us to build them an internal site for document distribution. Their existing system was a lot of manual work built around email. After a few rounds of strategy with stakeholders, we got to work building the ARA Hub.

Here’s how we did it: from user-centric design to selecting a secure platform, to utilizing the latest modern development frameworks.

Site Design

Early on we identified a key principle: design the site for clinic employees first, administrators second. ARA manages hundreds of clinics with thousands of clinic employees; their time adds up. When building a business application like this, keeping the site simple for employees isn't just good usability. It's good business sense. As Leonard Nimoy said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

The touchstone for this project was document distribution. The site design is simple, familiar and task-focused. Employees can find what they’re looking for on their first visit. The site borrows familiar elements from Windows 10 and Dropbox while using ARA’s brand colors. This helps new users acclimate easily.

We also limit distractions. Employees never see documents or categories they can’t access; they’re only shown information that they may need.

Every document gets a permanent, unique URL, that persists even if the document moves between teams or categories. This allows for cross-linking between documents; something that couldn’t be done at all previously. It also makes it easy to share links with clinic employees.

We built a rich access control system for administrators which lets ARA distribute documents by region, state, clinic, or even user role. However, while admins have access to these settings, they’re hidden from employees.

Remembering our core principle – designing for employees first and administrators second – we present files and documents by team and category. Using the example above, Northeast employees will find “Example File” in IT > Example Documents; employees in other regions won’t see it. Employees never have dig down into a folder for their specific clinic or state, or know who created a document.

Administrators have the control, and employees don’t have to worry.


The ARA Hub is built using Microsoft Azure, making full use of Azure services and security. Being a health organization, data security is critical. Azure provides a secure environment for hosting these documents.

Besides application hosting, we also used the following Azure services:

  • We use Azure Active Directory to keep employees accounts and permissions in sync with ARA’s internal systems. In fact, all of the roles and permissions for the intranet are controlled by ARA’s IT department using AD. By using existing processes, we avoided adding more load to IT.
  • The site uses Azure Search to search across all accessible documents including within document content.
  • The documents themselves are stored in Azure Blob Storage. This provides security as well as redundancy, so there’s no chance of losing data.

Web Technologies

The site itself is built with Laravel 5.5 and Vue 2.4, with the bulk of the site functioning as a SPA (Single Page Application), much like Twitter or Gmail. Browsing through documents doesn’t cause any full page loads - all content is fetched asynchronously and cached. This keeps the site fast and means it functions more like Google Drive or Dropbox than a typical web page.

ARA now has a platform that scales better, provides more security and requires substantially less manual work. The platform is built to grow and evolve with their needs.

We’re always happy to provide solutions, but internal projects like this are especially rewarding. We get to see firsthand how what we’ve built empowers and connects employees.