Painkiller purchasing in the UK: an exploratory study of information search and product evaluation

Andrew Paddison, Kine Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The aim of this paper is to explore, through exploratory qualitative research, how perceptions of involvement and risk, for female consumers, influences their information search and product evaluation decision‐making for over‐the‐counter (OTC) painkillers.
Design/methodology/approach – In‐depth interviews were conducted amongst 25 female OTC painkiller purchasers from one pharmacy. Females are more engaged with and have a greater likelihood to use OTC medication. Despite the benefits of applying qualitative approaches when researching self‐medication, there are few self‐care qualitative studies.
Findings – Despite the greater availability and awareness of OTC medicines, the purchasing process is still underpinned by inherent risk. Alongside base levels of involvement, painkillers had situational importance with there being unease as to the risk involved. Consumers felt uncertainty as to the worth of their knowledge and this was compounded by a lack of informational clarity. Finally, the risk of side‐effects and the relative importance of subjective beliefs often took precedence during evaluation.
Research limitations/implications – Information needs to be made more accessible, whilst there is scope to capitalise upon family history as interpersonal sources were deemed to be empathetic. As the study was conducted once in a “local” setting, the time span and level of interactivity could be extended by studying consumers “lived experiences”. Triangulated research amongst related parties, such as pharmacists, could build on this exploratory study.
Originality/value – OTC medicine sales have grown with self‐medicating consumers purchasing painkillers the most frequently. Previous research has stemmed from medical sociology, pharmacy practice and public policy, and there is a lack of contemporary (UK) consumer behaviour research on OTC painkiller purchasing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-307
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2008


  • painkiller purchasing
  • analgesics
  • consumer behaviour
  • product evaluation


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