Consumer internet purchasing of medicines using a population sample: A mixed methodology approach

Corinne Bowman, Hannah Family, Hugo Agius-Muscat, Maria Cordina, Jane Sutton

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Background: Malta has an average of 3–4 private community pharmacies per locality, providing patients with easy access to medicines yet according to general statistics gathered from European organisations, Internet is used to purchase various online products with medicines being amongst them. Objectives: To identify patterns around internet purchasing of medicines among Maltese residents. Methods: The study followed a mixed methods approach, employing a cross-sectional survey followed by semi-structured interviews. A random sample of 1996 residents were selected from the Maltese electoral register to participate in a postal questionnaire designed to gather data about purchasing prescription-only-medicines (POM) as well as over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Results were analysed using descriptive statistics and Chi-square to establish associations between responses. Five interviews investigated participants’ concerns related to sourcing of medicines. The participants were purposively chosen from the questionnaire respondents. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results: The survey had a 22% response rate (N = 444) (60% female; mean age 52 years ± 17). Two (0.45%) participants reported purchasing POMs online in the past, while 4.3% (n = 19) purchased OTCs including vitamins, supplements and herbal combinations. The main reasons for OTC online purchasing were lack of local availability (n = 6; 1.4%) and lower price (n = 11; 2.5%). A total of 89% (n = 395) of respondents provided a reason for not purchasing online, with safety issues being the primary reason for 41% (n = 181) of these. Interviewees expressed disregard towards internet purchasing of medicines that was evident from the themes that emerged: definition of ‘medicines’, health autonomy and trust in self-care, relationships and trust in health professional, restrictions of medicine supply, influence of cost, need for options. Conclusions: The Maltese appear to be rather cautious and do not purchase POMs online, citing the risks that may be associated with internet purchasing. With regards to OTCs, a small percentage purchase these online and exposing them to risks associated with unauthorised sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)819-827
Number of pages9
JournalResearch in Social and Administrative Pharmacy
Issue number6
Early online date13 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020


  • Adverse effects
  • Internet
  • Online medicines
  • Online purchasing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacy
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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