The symbolic mediation of patient trust: Transnational health-seeking among Indian-Australians Academic Article uri icon


  • This article explores whether this extension of treatment and medication possibilities, owing to greater transnational movement of goods and people, presents increasing challenges for maintaining patients' trust within nationally-bound healthcare systems, such as in Australia. We ran focus groups in Melbourne from June 2012 to June 2013 with 34 Indian migrants to Australia. Our findings illustrate discrepancies between the symbolic mediation of trust within Indian and Australian healthcare encounters. We find that Indian participants associated authoritative and decisive self-presentation by doctors with medical competence, conflicting with Western patient choice models which exalt patient autonomy and agency. We also find that trust in Indian healthcare encounters is mediated through the symbolic deployment of "strong medication" and the engendering of "hope" in patients. Australian doctors' failure to deploy these symbols in the same way contributes to distrust that Indian participants express towards Australian health professionals and healthcare systems. We conclude that in situations where patients have less familiarity with the symbolic repertoire shared by the majority of users of a national healthcare system, such as can be the case with recent migrants, difficulties and misunderstandings may arise in negotiating trust, providing a potential motivator for seeking alternatives transnationally.

publication date

  • 2019