The mother was picking up a prescription for her son's Ritalin to treat his attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). She was ready to grab the bag and go when the pharmacist mentioned the medicine ought to help with the chest pains. That's when they discovered she was about to leave the pharmacy with cardiac medication meant for a man with the same name as her son.

Mixups happen. In fact, giving a prescription to the wrong patient is one of the most common mistakes reported to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. According to the institute, 1 in every 1,000 prescriptions dispensed involves a mistake. That translates to about seven mistakes a month at every pharmacy — including yours.

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Not surprisingly, these mistakes can be dangerous. In one instance, a patient prescribed an antibiotic for a serious bacterial infection unknowingly got an antidepressant instead. Ten days later, the patient was desperately ill.

In another case, a patient prescribed pain medicine got a medication for gout, a type of arthritis. The person finally checked the medication label (and discovered the mistake) when the pain didn’t subside.

The institute says pharmacists must emphasize safety measures, such as double-checking names before dispensing prescriptions and requiring staff to enter the patient’s date of birth into the computer before a transaction can continue.

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However, consumers can also be proactive. Three simple steps can greatly increase the chances that you’ll leave the pharmacy with the right medicine and the right dose.

  • Give your full name and date of birth, even if the pharmacist does not ask for it.
  • Open the bag before leaving the pharmacy and look at the label and contents of each bottle. If someone picks up the medication for you, ask them to do this. If you want to keep what medicines you take private, do this immediately after the medicines are delivered to you.
  • Talk about the medicine with your pharmacist to be sure it's the correct medicine for your condition (many medication names look and sound alike, and doctors sometimes have messy handwriting or use abbreviations that can cause trouble when it’s time to fill your prescription) and the correct dose. Asking what the medicine is meant for can further minimize dispensing mistakes.

If you're shopping for a new pharmacy or wondering if yours is safety conscious, it's a good sign not only if staff verifies your name and date of birth but also has separate drop off and pick up points to avoid overcrowding and confusion. The separate areas also make it easier to talk privately with the pharmacist when picking up the medicine.

Related: 6 Mistakes People Make When Taking Medication

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles journalist specializing in health, behavior and fitness topics.