This paper is an analysis of the social interaction between drug sellers, their clients and local health care workers within a medical trial that introduced rapid diagnostic tests for malaria into private sector drug shops in Mukono District, Uganda. It locates the introduction of a new technology to test blood and a system of referral within the context of local concerns about the choice and evaluation of treatment; and the socially legitimated statuses, roles and hierarchies within the local health care system. Based on the multi-layered interpretation of 21 focus group discussions, we describe three key aspects of the trial central to local interpretation: openly testing blood, supervisory visits to drug shops and a new referral form. Each had the potential to shift drug shop vendors from outsider to insider of the formal health service. The responses of the different groups of participants reflect their situation within the health care system. The clients and patients welcomed the local availability of new diagnostic technology and the apparent involvement of the government in securing good quality health services for them from providers with often uncertain credentials. The drug shop vendors welcomed the authorization to openly test blood, enabling the demonstration of a new skill and newfound legitimacy as a health worker rather than simple drug seller. Formal sector health workers were less enthusiastic about the trial, raising concerns about professional hierarchies and the maintenance of a boundary around the formal health service to ensure the exclusion of those they considered untrained, unprofessional and untrustworthy personnel.