Investigating Patient Perspectives on Medical Returns and Buying Medicines Online in Two Communities in Melbourne, Australia: Results from a Qualitative Study

Original Research Article



By going online or overseas, patients can purchase a range of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), without prescription and without input from a qualified health professional. Such practices raise questions about medicine safety and how and why patients choose to procure medicines using such methods. The aim of this paper is to examine two unconventional types of medicine procurement—medical returns and purchasing medicines online—from the patient perspective.


Data are drawn from a large qualitative study examining health-seeking practices among Indian-Australians (28) and Anglo-Australians (30) living with depression in Melbourne, Australia. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were undertaken. Thematic analysis was performed.


A total of 23 (39.6 %) participants reported having obtained medicines either through the internet or via medical returns. Indian-Australians sourced medicines from India while Anglo-Australians purchased CAM products from domestic and international e-pharmacies. Neither group encountered any difficulties in the medicines entering Australia. Cost and convenience were the main reasons for buying medicines online but dissatisfaction with Australian health services also influenced why Indian-Australians sought medicines from India. Nearly all participants reported benefits from consuming these medicines; only one person reported adverse effects.


The increased availability of medicines transnationally and patients’ preparedness to procure these medicines from a range of sources raise important issues for the safe use of medicines. Further research is needed to understand how patients forge their own transnational therapeutic regimes, understand and manage their levels of risk in relation to safe medicine use and what points of intervention might be most effective to promote safe medicine use.



The authors acknowledge the support of the funding bodies that have facilitated this study: Bianca Brijnath is supported by a fellowship from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Josefine Antoniades is funded to undertake this research by an Australian Postgraduate Award and Jon Adams is supported by a fellowship from the NHMRC. We thank Ms. Nabita Singh for her assistance with the recruitment of some of the Indian-Australian participants. Bianca Brijnath, Josefine Antoniades and Jon Adams declare no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.


Bianca Brijnath designed the study, undertook data collection and analyses and drafted the first iteration of this article. Josefine Antoniades contributed to the data collection, final data analyses and various drafts of the article. Jon Adams contributed to the article argument, final data analyses and various drafts of the article. All authors approved the final manuscript; Bianca Brijnath is the overall guarantor of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bianca Brijnath
    • 1
  • Josefine Antoniades
    • 1
  • Jon Adams
    • 2
  1. 1.Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.University of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia

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