To prompt or not to prompt? A microrandomized trial of time-varying push notifications to increase proximal engagement with a mobile health app

Niranjan Bidargaddi, Daniel Almirall, Susan Murphy, Inbal Nahum-Shani, Michael Kovalcik, Timothy Pituch, Haitham Maaieh, Victor Strecher

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117 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Mobile health (mHealth) apps provide an opportunity for easy, just-in-time access to health promotion and self-management support. However, poor user engagement with these apps remains a significant unresolved challenge. Objective: This study aimed to assess the effect of sending versus not sending a push notification containing a contextually tailored health message on proximal engagement, measured here as self-monitoring via the app. Secondary aims were to examine whether this effect varies by the number of weeks enrolled in the program or by weekday versus weekend. An exploratory aim was to describe how the effect on proximal engagement differs between weekday versus weekend by the time of day. Methods: The study analyzes the causal effects of push notifications on proximal engagement in 1255 users of a commercial workplace well-being intervention app over 89 days. The app employs a microrandomized trial (MRT) design to send push notifications. At 1 of 6 times per day (8:30 am, 12:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, 7:30 pm, and 8:30 pm; selected randomly), available users were randomized with equal probability to be sent or not sent a push notification containing a tailored health message. The primary outcome of interest was whether the user self-monitored behaviors and feelings at some time during the next 24 hours via the app. A generalization of log-linear regression analysis, adapted for use with data arising from an MRT, was used to examine the effect of sending a push notification versus not sending a push notification on the probability of engagement over the next 24 hours. Results: Users were estimated to be 3.9% more likely to engage with the app in the next 24 hours when a tailored health message was sent versus when it was not sent (risk ratio 1.039; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.08; P<.05). The effect of sending the message attenuated over the course of the study, but this effect was not statistically significant (P=.84). The effect of sending the message was greater on weekends than on weekdays, but the difference between these effects was not statistically significant (P=.18). When sent a tailored health message on weekends, the users were 8.7% more likely to engage with the app (95% CI 1.01 to 1.17), whereas on weekdays, the users were 2.5% more likely to engage with the app (95% CI 0.98 to 1.07). The effect of sending a tailored health message was greatest at 12:30 pm on weekends, when the users were 11.8% more likely to engage (90% CI 1.02 to 1.13). Conclusions: Sending a push notification containing a tailored health message was associated with greater engagement in an mHealth app. Results suggested that users are more likely to engage with the app within 24 hours when push notifications are sent at mid-day on weekends.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10123
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Health promotion
  • Lifestyle
  • Mobile applications
  • Push notification
  • Self report
  • Smartphone
  • Ubiquitous computing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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