medical website hosting

What doctors must know about cheap medical website hosting

In recent months up to 1.2 million websites suffered from a data breach at GoDaddy, one of the well-known web hosting providers. You have asked us great quality questions about your medical website hosting over the years and we thought it was time to bring the essential facts and myths about hosting together in this article.
medical website hosting

What doctors must know about cheap medical website hosting

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

November 26, 2021

Hosting for doctors: What it actually means

what is medical website hosting

I know, as a surgeon, specialist or physician, website hosting is as exciting a topic as discussing your power or water bill with a colleague. Decade after decade, this vast technical realm we call the internet or that we define as being online, expands. And if you are now working in private practice, you have probably spent substantial chunks of time studying medicine, not internet technology.

So let’s start with a definition:

Hosting is the process that involves running several pieces of software on a computer that is connected to the internet, in a secure and protected environment. When someone configures this setup to host a website, it can be done in many ways but the bottom line is that the website (a 24/7 live piece of software) runs on that specific computer and delivers an experience every time someone visits it.’

I know. It’s still clunky. But you get the picture, and the common misconceptions about medical website hosting can be summarised as follows:

  • It’s just a technical thing, something that is running anonymously in huge data centres. There is no human intervention.
  • It’s available at very cheap prices by some providers so all the other offers must be a rip-off
  • My colleague has one of those cheap packages and his website works fine.
  • We don’t need bells and whistles. After all, we are not Paypal or Bank of America, are we?

Let’s go over some essential aspects of medical website hosting that some of your team members might have ignored until today.

Why cheap shared hosting can cost you money

cheap medical website hosting

Whenever a cheap website hosting package is presented to you, the first thing to inspect is the type of web server you are renting.

Hold on: Did you just say renting?

That’s right. Website hosting in its pure essence is a lease or a rental agreement. What you are renting is a combination of hard drive space, processing quality and speed, bandwidth, and added services. These can range from air conditioning and power costs, security and redundancy costs and backup costs.

So the first thing is to check who you are sharing space with. If your hosting has a dedicated server just for you, then that eliminates certain risks provided the server solution is professionally configured. But if you have shared hosting, it is critical to know what type of other websites and how many are on the same server. whether you are paying for dedicated server space or shared server space. Shared hosting means that the website for your private health practice could be sitting on a machine that has hundreds of other websites. There is no guest list. In other words, your pages on ACL reconstruction, antenatal care or sleep apnoea could be sitting right next to a website that shows the human body in all its glory in non-medical ways…or a website that sends out 5,000 spam messages per hour to a hacked database of confidential email addresses.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"It’s as if you would have your practice in a tower that hosts other activities such as illegal gambling, illegal drug distribution or weapons trafficking. Someone who googles your address will frown."

Now with website hosting, there’s more to it than postcode vanity and an unfortunate address. Those 5,000 spam messages I referred to, each carry an identification number (the IP number of the server they came from). Major email platforms such as Microsoft Outlook or Gmail, and other software tools that might be linked to your marketing, practice management or online booking systems, will now blacklist this IP address. Your genuine emails to inform the patient or a colleague will start disappearing in spam.

Take the recent data breach at GoDaddy. On November 22, 2021, the United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) received an official notification from GoDaddy. They had discovered a breach. Someone got in and they got the keys to every single website on a system that runs about 1.2 million websites. If you would have your medical website hosting running under one of the affected packages it could mean that anyone who sent you an email through the website in recent months, is now vulnerable because their information is out there.

We have now established that – once the initial celebratory vibe you were enjoying because of this magnificent cheap hosting package starts waning – we may have a problem when things go wrong.

The solution? There are two ways to avoid this massive pitfall for your private practice:

  1. Only accept shared hosting situations with a guarantee that only the good guys are invited. In simple terms: when we apply shared hosting for smaller websites, we only share the space with similar websites of health practices, all built to the same standards and under our 24/7 management. None of the previously cited activities is obviously happening on our customers’ websites.
  2. Enquire about dedicated server hosting for your medical website. Sometimes, regulations that apply to a specific jurisdiction will require this as a condition. The additional cost may be worth it even if you are not forced to implement it for legal reasons because, on a dedicated server, your website gains loading speed and has more breathing space to add additional software, integrations and functionality.

Cheap hosting, poor website health, poor visibility.

dangers of cheap medical website hosting

Cheap medical website hosting may sound very attractive. The businesses that offer these solutions often use older and low-quality server models to start with. The next choice cheap hosting providers would make is to put hundreds or thousands of websites on one web server. Slow loading speed is one concern, and it directly affects how Google looks at your web pages. Slower means less interesting to display and as a result, your rankings will suffer.

To put things in perspective, our development policy is to co-host a maximum of 7 websites on one server so each medical website has plenty of resources and available RAM memory to load fast and please the patient and Google. The websites that sit together nicely on that server are all representing medical businesses and are built in-house. No poor code, no dodgy spam activities. At any stage, we can upscale the individual website’s capacity or the server capacity.

To draw an analogy: Cheap hosts will rent one apartment to 40 families and give them one square meter per family member, without checking their activities or intentions in the building. You don’t need a vivid imagination to see that there will be incidents. Quality medical website hosting is taking a lease on a standalone quality house for your family only, with proper checks and balances and guarantees and community rules in place to give you peace of mind.

And this all affects your Google ranking. In the end, we come across many situations where the cheap solution is the one that causes loss of income. Making it awkwardly expensive, as your accountant will be able to confirm.

Google makes automated decisions about your Google ranking in a split second. That’s where the algorithms and Google’s artificial intelligence come in. There are many aspects of Google ranking (Search Engine Optimisation) that you can influence by investing in quality content the way Google itself defines it. If you want to learn more about this, check out our article about quality content.

So what is the impact of website health on your Google visibility?

In that same split second, Google also checks if the website experience of its users will be acceptable, once it starts ranking your web pages sending Google users to your website. Poor website health is one of the main reasons why excellent content still ranks poorly. If your website is full of broken links, doesn’t load fast, is not responsive and has other technical glitches, it will cost you money.

Part of the weakness could be the way your website is built. As we have outlined, it is a live piece of software, or rather: a purpose-built combination of software tools and plugins working together to display content on remote screens every time someone clicks to call up a page.

That’s right. The pages are not static. Each time someone clicks, the page is generated by this cluster of software. It’s not like a printed brochure, that will only malfunction once the paper degenerates. In the case of your medical website, poor website health and poor maintenance can render the entire website obsolete.

The hosting choices that you make, are like the lifestyle factors you inspect with a patient. It’s the foundation. The way your software is running on the physical machine you are renting is the starting point. Poor website hosting can ruin your efforts to build a great and successful medical practice and that is why we don’t cut corners in this area (or in any other area).

About domains, certificates, backups, updates and monitoring

best medical website hosting solutions for doctors

While you are brushing up your understanding of this little-known corner of your medical practice, let’s clarify a few associated terms and topics:

  • Domain hosting: Not to be confused with website hosting, this is about the place where your purchased domain is registered and kept safe in a domain hosting account. You would typically pay for 1, 2 or 5 years of domain registration or domain hosting. This allows you to point your domain towards your medical website hosting server.
  • Security certificates: A website security certificate is also called an SSL certificate and it adds additional security to your website. Typically your website addresses will now start with HTTPS instead of HTTP and there is a small lock icon in front of the URL.
  • Backups: A backup only serves its purpose if the recent and up-to-date copy of your website is kept in a different location, in case the physical server stops working and data can not be recovered. A backup should also be configured so it can easily be redeployed. Remember that websites are combinations of live software, so it needs expertise to re-install a backup. Just like it takes expertise to migrate a website to another physical location. Many cheap website hosting providers will take minimal or no backups and will charge to restore a backup when things go wrong. Our best practice is to make daily backups and retain them for 4 weeks.
  • Updates: Software needs updates. Website software such as server software or Content Management System software such as WordPress requires regular updates because hackers get smarter and software developers need to keep up with that situation. Cheap hosting often means that no manual updates are done, leaving the door wide open for hackers. With medical content, web form messages from potential patients and your reputation at stake, this is not a risk you want to take as a doctor/business owner.
  • Monitoring: Several aspects of your website need semi-automated processes and monitoring. If this is not included in your hosting agreement, your practice could suffer from downtime, broken links or other malfunctions and decreasing visibility on Google, without you ever noticing what is going on.
medical website hosting

Why humans matter for your website hosting

hosting provider for doctors

All of the above ties in with the main purpose of your medical website: to generate business for your private practice.
In many situations, before customers came on board, we noticed a total lack of quality control in their medical website hosting arrangements.

Human intervention is still key, even though this is about software running in the background. Monitoring may involve a combination of the following processes:

  • SEO monitoring: Per website page, the optimisation score of pages in relation to the other similar pages in your local market for the same topic. When other websites make significant content changes, your optimisation score may need to be upscaled to remain competitive.
  • Security monitoring: Hacking attempts are often unsuccessful because of the protective measures that we take. Yet, with cheaper hosting packages on shared servers that contain malware in the first place, there is often no security monitoring in place. Email notifications, manually vetted by a 24/7 team, are a best practice that is not honoured by many hosting providers.
  • Plugin management: Web forms, embedded booking tools, download functionality, connections with practice management tools, email marketing plugins, chatboxes, or plugins to measure traffic and conversions, are all separate software items that may update individually. Conflicts between plugins – as boring as they may be and as detached you may be from this background process, need attention. By a human with experience.
  • Major internet upgrades: New PHP code (the back-end of the back-end), new Google best practices, new smartphone screen sizes or functions…All of that is no longer a matter of every few years but rather a monthly cycle.
  • Support: Many cheap hosting providers have no support culture and simply automate and outsource the technical work. Digital Practice offers fast and expert support by qualified developers within our internal core team, from our Australian and Dutch locations to cater for all time zones.

The human experience often starts with clarity. I have met many doctors who had their aha moment once they realised this is a fundamental digital asset for their private practice. A vulnerability, an aspect of risk management as critical as choosing secure electrical devices for your consultation room or theatre setup.

Managing one of your key assets requires transparency, support, and ownership of the work so you can focus on helping your patients while your online presence works for you…and keeps working.

Let's meet

Hungry to learn more about hosting?

meeting about medical website hosting

We can talk about this for hours. We don’t need hours to create clarity in your situation and to discuss how we could help you secure your digital foundation.

An obligation-free 15 or 30-minute Zoom meeting often creates that much needed extra clarity and if you want to avoid the risks that come with poor hosting agreements, let’s meet and discuss.

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