Hospital technician works by computer station.
Hospital technician works by computer station. - 
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Bill Radke: Every year, hundreds of hospital patients die from prescription drug mistakes. Computers, we're told, could help alert doctors and nurses to prescribing errors before they happen. But a study published in today's journal Health Affairs shows just having the technology is not enough. From our health desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Marketplace's Gregory Warner reports.

Gregory Warner: Here's one way the technology's supposed to help hospitals: Doctors type a prescription onto a computer. The computer cross-checks it with the patient's information and alerts the doctor to red flags.

Jane Metzger: Let's say it's a medication to which the patient has a known allergy.

Jane Metzger is a researcher at the health care consulting firm CSC. She ran tests with 62 hospitals that use software like this. Some hospital computers flagged the errors. Others, though, caught barely 10 percent.

David Bates: The variability on the scores is extraordinary.

David Bates is chief of internal medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard. He co-authored the study on computerized prescribing safety, which came out today in the journal Health Affairs. He says its not that low-scoring hospitals need more tech geeks:

Bates: It's really a matter of having nurses and doctors work with the tech geeks so that the right clinical knowledge is put in place.

The White House has offered some $36 billion in incentives for hospitals to modernize by 2014.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

Follow Gregory Warner at @radiogrego