WordPress is one of the most convenient content management systems out there. No matter what industry you’re in, the platform makes it easy to quickly construct an impressive, aesthetically pleasing website. That’s why over 455 million sites use it – and that number is continuously growing.
If you’re in the healthcare industry, there is one thing you might be wondering about: HIPAA compliance. Out-of-the-box WordPress websites are not HIPAA-compliant on their own, and the platform doesn’t offer a HIPAA-compliant hosting service.
So, how do you make sure your WordPress website meets the latest regulations?
HIPAA website requirements are a little vague, but if you work with patient data, you need to implement safeguards for your data. Healthcare data breaches are on the rise, which means now is the time to start thinking about increasing your security and taking preventative measures.
Remember: WordPress does not meet HIPAA standards on its own, so you’ll need to do a bit of legwork to create a HIPAA-compliant WordPress site that keeps health data secure. So, let’s dive right in:
Understanding HIPAA in Respect to Websites
HIPAA requirements for websites are somewhat unclear; there is nothing that explicitly covers compliance in terms of websites. (There is, however, a “Special Topics” section that covers cloud computing, which can act as something of a guide.) All considered, let’s talk about what we do know.
As with any kind of electronic data capturing, you’ll need to ensure your WordPress site is in line with HIPAA’s Security Rules on confidentiality, especially if you’re dealing with ePHI. Electronically protected health information (ePHI) is any identifiable patient data that a medical professional produces, saves, transfers, shares or receives electronically. Data can range from name, addresses, biometrics, photos, social security numbers and more.
If your website collects names, addresses, or even dates from patients, you have a responsibility to ensure your ePHI is 100% secure, according to HIPAA regulations.
If you want a HIPAA-compliant WordPress site, you’ll need to ensure it:
- Uses a HIPAA-compliant website hosting provider
- Has an SSL certificate (HTTPS)
- Encrypts and secures any web forms
- Restricts access to ePHI (and prevents it from being inappropriately altered)
WordPress does not automatically offer these features, so if you’re dealing with private patient information, you’ll need to prioritize this on your own. Not only do you need to implement security controls, but you also need to ensure all administrators and internal users are trained under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.
How to Remove ePHI from WordPress
Arguably the best way to protect ePHI? Store it outside of your website.
This dramatically reduces your risk. WordPress has had its fair share of security issues over the years, and it’s difficult to find a hosting service that is truly invulnerable to cyberattacks. If you want to keep patient data safe, you’re better off storing any-and-all data in a secure, third-party environment.
It doesn’t matter if you opt for a cloud-computing environment (our preference) or a protected external hard drive. The important thing is to outsource this highly sensitive healthcare data to a data storage facility you can trust.
The less time ePHI spends passing through the WordPress infrastructure, the better. You can intake patient messages or information on the site, but ensure it quickly gets transferred somewhere with more thorough defenses (and that meets HIPAA regulations).
Using Plugins for HIPAA Compliance
WordPress doesn’t really have HIPAA-compliant elements, but there are security plugins that can substitute for what the platform lacks. Many WordPress healthcare websites rely on security plugins to keep their data protected, secure, and moving through the right channels.
Some of the top WordPress HIPAA plugins include:
- HIPAA FORMS – allows businesses to create safe, simple contact forms
- HIPAAtizer – customize or convert contact forms for safety purposes
- Google Authenticator – protect and implement strict login credentials
- Two Factor Authentication – ensures only trusted people can access data
Of course, there’s a wide range of WordPress plugins out there – and not all are created equally. You’ll need to watch out for plugins that affect your site’s performance and loading speed. You don’t want a plugin that forces your bounce rates to skyrocket, even if it does enhance your data security.
Furthermore, WordPress plugins come with their own vulnerabilities and risks. Do your research to ensure you’re only using plugins that are highly recommended and trusted. If you are not actively using the plugin, disable it to minimize your risks and improve your site’s performance.
We also recommend updating your WordPress website plugins as soon as new versions/updates are released. This helps your current WordPress site stay protected from ever-evolving threats.
What Makes WordPress Hosting HIPAA-Compliant?
If you’re in the healthcare industry, one of your top priorities when researching hosting options should be HIPAA compliance. WordPress does not offer any HIPAA-compliant hosting services, so turning to a third party is crucial.
When evaluating your website hosting options, look for a provider that:
- Requires strong passwords and two-factor authentication
- Configures sFTP for secure updates
- Uses firewalls or DDoS protection systems
- Offers 24/7/365 customer service
- Sends instant critical alerts when a threat appears
In many ways, your website is only as secure and compliant as your hosting provider. If you can’t trust them to protect the safety of your ePHI, then you’ll struggle to maintain a HIPAA-compliant WordPress site.
Need Assistance with HIPAA Compliance?
The truth is that achieving HIPAA compliance simply isn’t the same process for all WordPress sites. Depending on how you use WordPress and the kind of data you obtain, you may need to take extra precautions to stay compliant.
There are, however, some components that are required across the board for HIPAA-compliant hosting services and websites. Now is the time to start focusing on the initial steps to compliance, and in the future, you can further polish your data protection strategies.
How Ayokay Can Help with Healthcare Data Protection
Ayokay is a full-service website development agency, and we understand that cookie-cutter solutions don’t really work – especially for businesses dealing with medical information and sensitive data. We’re here to help you build and run a website that meets all of your industry’s security expectations, including HIPAA requirements.
If you’re designing a WordPress website, or you have questions about website compliance, reach out to our team. We’ll work with you to assess safe hosting solutions, find the best plugins, and meet your industry’s unique challenges head-on.
Jack Shepler is a Marketing and Search Engine Optimization expert. He founded Ayokay, award-winning marketing, and web design firm in Indianapolis, Indiana that has built brands, increased sales for businesses, and helped nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions since 2011. He uses his decades of experience to educate through the Ayokay blog and through public speaking. You can follow him on LinkedIn.