Health records: Software lets docs go paperless for free, if they look at ads

The heat is on. Doctors, long resistant to taking their practices into the digital age, are finally starting to adopt electronic health records. President Obama said earlier this year he wanted to see all medical records digitized within five years. There have been many reasons for the foot-dragging, but a big one has been cost, about $44,000 per physician to install an electronic health-records system -- not including any ongoing maintenance costs -- according to a study in Health Affairs.

To make sure the digital switch doesn't take an eternity, the government is now kicking in some cash -- some $44,000 per physician over five years to computerize their practices. But it's unclear how many will bother to apply. Wiring up the nation's doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance companies is expected to improve care, reduce medical errors and eliminate the waste that occurs when, say, the same test is ordered by different doctors because it's easier to just do it over then wait for the previous test results to arrive. Needless to say, the push to go paperless has led to something of a land grab among the dozens of software companies that provide such systems, says Ryan Howard, chief executive officer of one such outfit called Practice Fusion.