The Effects of Adopting Mobile Health and Fitness Apps on Hospital Visits : Quasi-Experimental Study

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

1 Scopus Citations
View graph of relations



Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45681
Journal / PublicationJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
Online published28 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023



Background: Overcrowding in public hospitals, a common issue in many countries, leads to a range of negative outcomes, such as insufficient access to medical services and patient dissatisfaction. Prior literature regarding solutions to reducing hospital overcrowding primarily focuses on organizational-level operational efficiency. However, few studies have investigated the strategies from the individual patient perspective. Specifically, we considered using mobile health and fitness apps to promote users' health behaviors and produce health benefits, thereby reducing hospital visits. Objective: This study estimated the causal effect of health and fitness app adoption on hospital visits by exploiting the staggered timing of adoption. We also investigated how the effect varied with users' socioeconomic status and digital literacy. This study provides causal evidence for the effects of health apps, extends the digital health literature, and sheds light on mobile health policies. Methods: This study used a data set containing health and fitness app use and hospital-related geolocation data of 267,651 Chinese mobile phone users from January to December 2019. We used the difference-in-differences and difference-in-difference-in-differences designs to estimate the causal effect. We performed a sensitivity analysis to establish the robustness of the findings. We also conducted heterogeneity analyses based on the interactions of postadoption indicators with users' consumption levels, city tiers, and digital literacy. Results: The preferred model (difference-in-difference-in-differences) showed a significant decrease in hospital visits after the adoption of health and fitness apps. App adoption led to a 5.8% (P<.001), 13.1% (P<.001), and 18.4% reduction (P<.001) in hospital visits 1, 2, and 3 months after adoption, respectively. In addition, the moderation analysis shows that the effect is greater for users with high consumption levels, in high-tier cities, or with high digital literacy. Conclusions: This study estimated the causal effect of health and fitness app adoption on hospital visits. The results and sensitivity analysis showed that app adoption can reduce users' hospital visits. The effect varies with users' consumption levels, city tiers, and digital literacy. These findings provide useful insights for multiple stakeholders in the Chinese health care context. ©Yan Bo, Qianqian Ben Liu, Yu Tong. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (, 28.07.2023.

Research Area(s)

  • health and fitness apps, app adoption, app use, hospital visit, causal effect, health behavior, consumption level, city tier, digital literacy, hospitalization, admission, adoption, acceptance, mobile health, mHealth, fitness, exercise, physical activity, health app, fitness app, difference-in-differences

Download Statistics

No data available