In this day and age, healthcare providers must have a website for their medical practice. Your medical practice website is how you publish information about you, the conditions you treat, and your practice and it is the best way for patients and future patients to easily communicate with you online.
From locating the nearest doctors and healthcare providers to scheduling appointments and paying bills online, Patients are increasingly turning to the internet to find and interact with their healthcare providers.
Whether you’re setting up a brand new website or looking to improve your existing site—you will need to pick a website hosting provider. Let’s talk about some best practices for web hosting and choosing where to host your website.
Best Practice #1 – Don’t Try to Manage Your Own Website Hosting
The simple fact is, every website (medical or not) requires two things to function: a domain and website hosting. On the surface, particularly if you are already running a lot of technology in your practice, it may appear to make sense to manage your own hosting. After all, it is just space on a server, right? It seems cheaper when compared to some of the fees encountered when searching for a website provider. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to keeping a site running than just finding space on a server. Software updates, setting up and resetting access credentials, maintaining the server to ensure optimal performance and other site management tasks and hurdles can be difficult to keep up with if your focus is on running your medical practice. Furthermore, web hosting is a different animal than running practice management and productivity software; equipment that works well at one won’t necessarily do well with the other. Bring in an expert to handle your hosting.
Best Practice #2 – Use a Professional Hosting Provider for Your Medical Website
From offering HIPAA-compliant appointment requests and allowing online bill pay for patients to providing simple ways for you to make easy edits to your site, a professional medical website hosting provider can be a huge help in managing your website. But with so many options available in today’s market, which hosting provider should you choose for your healthcare site?
There are many popular hosting providers offering basic website hosting, medical website design agencies who offer hosting, and medical-specific hosting providers; the features offered and pricing can be very similar and the number of choices can be overwhelming. If you’re starting a web design project or just looking for a new host, here’s a guide to choosing a web hosting provider for your medical website.
Guide to Choosing Your Website Host
5 Must-Have Web Host Features Healthcare Providers Need
While HIPAA-compliant hosting is not always necessary for all healthcare sites, you shouldn’t jump on board with the cheapest bare bones web hosting option you can find either. In general, if you are collecting or storing any sort of protected health information (PHI) that falls under HIPAA, you should be using a HIPAA-compliant provider to store that data.
In many cases, the best option will be to use a HIPAA-compliant service, like a cloud-based EHR system or compliant medical data storage provider, to handle your PHI and host your website with a non-compliant web host using SSL. This tactic offers you the best of both worlds—you get compliant handling of your PHI and you can still host your site with a conventional hosting provider.
Since HIPAA-compliance for your website isn’t a necessity, let’s jump into the 5 must-have features that all web hosts should have.
Resources and Features Necessary to Support Your Site
The most important element of any web host is that their offerings match up with what you need for your web site. Whether you need multiple gigabytes of storage space for a massive media library, a specific software package, or something else, you need to know the host you select offers the right combination of resources and features your site needs to function. You don’t want to sign on for a year or more of hosting only to find out your host isn’t going to work for your site, because they don’t support a critical software package or offer enough space to store all your media.
Fast Load Speeds
People are impatient; they don’t like to wait on websites to load. Sometimes a slow loading site is just poorly designed and coded, but often well-optimized sites can be slow to load due to performance issues with the web host’s server. Typically this is a factor with the cheapest hosting plans, which share a single server across many different accounts. In this situation, if one site is seeing a ton of traffic or heavily using server resources, all the other sites on the server can start to slow down as a result. When you’re selecting a hosting provider, take care to ensure they can offer the highest levels of performance for your site. Not only will future users of your site enjoy the better performance, it can help improve your search engine optimization.
High Levels of Security and Auditing Capabilities
Even when HIPAA-compliance isn’t required, you want to know your website is secure. You don’t want to invest the time and money into building your new web site only to find out that it was compromised and blacklisted by Google. Ask your potential host about the security measures they have implemented as well as any auditing and logging capabilities they offer. In the event that something does happen, audits and logs provide essential insights into what went wrong so you and your hosting provider can quickly solve the problem.
With the recent push by Google and others to boost internet security by increasing the number of sites using SSL encryption (i.e., HTTPS), supporting SSL encryption is a necessity. Some hosting packages or hosts may not support SSL certificates at all and should be avoided. While you can buy SSL certificates, it’s hard to beat an included SSL certificate. It will depend entirely on the host in question, but you may find that you actually save money by springing for a more expensive hosting plan that includes SSL encryption compared to going for the less expensive hosting package and buying an SSL certificate separately.
Specialization in Your Website Platform
Think about the last time you ate Italian or Mexican, did you go to an Italian or Mexican restaurant or did you go down to your local diner and ask the short order cook to whip you up something? Using a web host that supports a lot of different platforms is convenient, but you typically pay for this convenience when you’re trying to get support. In contrast, if your site is built on WordPress, a popular web development platform, and you hire a web hosting provider who specializes in WordPress hosting, you can expect a much higher level of understanding when you need it most. Additionally, the host will likely have optimized their hardware and software for maximum performance with that platform and may have even automated certain tasks like daily backups or site migrations.
Professional Web Hosting Providers We Recommend
With WordPress powering more than 25% of the internet and the ease and flexibility of working with the open source software, there is a really good chance your site will be based on WordPress. This is great news, because there are some great hosting options available for WordPress sites.
Unlike shared hosting packages, like those available for about $10 a month from big names like GoDaddy and Hostgator, WP Engine offers a fully-managed platform for hosting WordPress starting at only a few dollars more per month. Using this kind of hosting maximizes the performance, enhances the security, and reduces the complexity of managing your WordPress website. WP Engine takes care of the speed, security, support, updates, backups, redundancy and scalability of WordPress with their optimized hosting platform allowing you to focus on serving your patients. They also offer free SSL encryption with every package—all you have to do is click a few buttons and you’re set!
Rated the #1 Managed WordPress host in the world, Flywheel is a another great WordPress-focused option. They offer non-shared VPS hosting that maximizes site security and performance with servers optimized for WordPress. Each plan includes their custom firewall and unlimited free malware cleaning to ensure your site is as secure as possible. Flywheel also works at the server level to cache your site to make sure it is loading as fast as possible. Additionally, they perform nightly backups of the entire WordPress install that are stored offsite for extra security. Each backup can be restored with a single click or downloaded at anytime.
Flywheel’s support team is chock-full of WordPress experts that are experienced WordPress designers and developers. They can help you with anything from identifying major site issues, like the WordPress White Screen of Death, and fixing them to recommending themes or plugins and anything in between.
General Website Hosting Options
As an agency offering web design services to healthcare clients, Baker Labs primarily uses WordPress, but you may be wondering: what about other platforms? There are so many options it would be difficult to produce a list of recommendations for each and everyone. Thankfully, we can recommend a few general hosting options that offer many of the must-have features above and offer some of the same great benefits of our recommended WordPress hosting providers.
Unlike many of the other options available, InMotion’s shared hosting servers use the latest in fast SSD drives to ensure your files and pages are served up quickly and to boost uptime. Additionally, they include free SSL, backups, and no downtime transfers of existing sites. Finally, unlike most shared providers, InMotion has focused on optimizing server and network performance in their data centers to ensure every site loads fast and operates smoothly.
If you need a little more than their business hosting supports, InMotion Hosting offers virtual private server hosting starting at around $20 per month. This package is similar to what Flywheel offers, but without the WordPress specific optimizations and the awesome WordPress support team. You gain many of the same performance and security benefits of not sharing your hosting environment with any other sites, but you retain the flexibility of being able to use any of the platforms they support. InMotion’s 24/7/365 support is there to keep you on track when it comes to managing your web hosting, but it is worth mentioning that you will lose some of the ease-of-use that comes with the other options. VPS is something that you may eventually need, but don’t skip ahead; unless you know you need VPS hosting, stick with one of the managed or shared options.
Also starting at around $20 a month and including a free SSL certificate for the first year, GoDaddy’s Business Hosting blends the ease-of-use shared hosting packages offer with the dedicated resources and excellent performance of VPS hosting packages. You retain the simplicity of maintaining your hosting via a control panel that doesn’t require any server administration skills, but you gain the dedicated resources of the VPS hosting. You don’t have to share the memory or disk space allocated for your hosting so your website won’t be impacted by other websites you share a server with.
When all you want to do is launch a new website for your medical practice, finding the right web hosting service can seem overwhelming. Following the advice outlined here can go a long way toward finding the best hosting option for you. If you still find yourself overwhelmed at the idea of finding a good host and launching your new site, consider hiring a web design firm who understands the process of designing a medical web site and already has relationships with hosting providers or perhaps even offers their own hosting packages. Either way, your stress will be hugely reduced by utilizing professional hosting options rather than making do with the cheapest hosting package you can find.