Electronic medical records (EMR) are coming to a physician near you. The faster the better, I say.

Doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies have been relying on old-fashioned paper records to keep track of our medical histories for far too long. In this hyper-connected age, there is no real reason why I should have to ask one doctor to fax barely legible copies of my records to the next specialist, or lug around enormous folders of MRI films and X-rays by hand.

But reform is on the way -- and fast. Today, Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) was the latest of many technology giants to enter the medical records arena with an end-to-end hardware and software solution designed to take the friction out of the medical records system -- and lower costs for the care providers.

Dell's EMR solution qualifies for government subsidies under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, from which a staggering $19 billion has been set aside to fund EMR adoption. Dell also stands ready with financing plans. The idea is to get smaller, independent practices aboard the EMR bandwagon by connecting them to larger hospital systems -- which in turn can exchange information with each other.

Only 10% of American health care providers have a fully-functional EMR system today, so there is plenty of room for growth. That, and the $19 billion in earmarked federal money, also explains why the list of EMR solutions available today reads like a Who's Who of technology giants:

  • Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has its Google Health service pitted against Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and its HealthVault, duking it out in the sub-market for connecting individual patients to our own records.
  • IBM (NYSE:IBM) sells software that helps patients manage their Google Health records, and IBM already casts a big, blue shadow in hospitals with its plethora of data management products.
  • Even networking specialist Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) wants in on the action, and it is rolling out buses with high-definition TelePresence systems that will take health care to underserved countryside areas.

That $19 billion subsidy is a large market, and that's just the government's commitment. Physicians and hospitals will pay their share, too, which grows the pie even further. Dell has dipped its toe in the EMR waters before by providing the hardware for an EMR system sold by Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT). The company is smart to stake a claim early on, and I wish all of the providers above all the best in dragging our health records into the digital age, kicking and screaming.

Do you trust Google and Microsoft with your health records, or would you rather see hospitals forming a nationwide network of their own? Discuss in the comments below.

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Dell, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart Stores are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He spends entirely too much time running documents between various doctors and can't wait for the all-digital EMC revolution. So there. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.