Leveraging the E-commerce Footprint for the Analytics of Healthcare Utilization

39 Pages Posted: 27 May 2020 Last revised: 28 Mar 2022

See all articles by Manuel Hermosilla

Manuel Hermosilla

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School

Jian Ni

Johns Hopkins University

Haizhong Wang

Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU)

Jin Zhang

Jinan University

Date Written: July 1, 2020


The utilization of healthcare services serves as a barometer for current and future health outcomes. Even in countries with modern healthcare IT infrastructure, however, fragmentation and interoperability issues hinder the (short-term) monitoring of utilization, forcing policymakers to rely on secondary data sources, such as surveys. This deficiency may be particularly problematic during public health crises, when ensuring proper and timely access to healthcare acquires special importance. This article provides evidence suggesting that online pharmacies' digital footprint data may contain a strong signal of healthcare utilization. Our analysis takes advantage of the scenario created by first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in China, where the virus' spread lead to pervasive and deep reductions of utilization. Relying on a large sample of online pharmacy transactions with full national coverage, we first detect variation that is strongly consistent with the anatomy of utilization reductions across geographies and over time. Such heterogeneous variations across drug classes are consistent with the survey-reported variability of reductions in cross-specialty care. We then validate our claims by contrasting online pharmacy variation against credit-card transactions for medical services. A machine learning prediction exercise based on a random-forests model illustrates that the addition of predictors based on online pharmacy activity significantly improves estimation accuracy. Together, our results suggest that incorporating online pharmacy activity data could advance the analytics of healthcare utilization monitoring.

Note: Funding: None.

Conflict of Interest: None declared

Keywords: Healthcare, Online Drug Retailing, Digital Footprint, Differences-In-Differences-In-Differences

JEL Classification: I1, I14, I18, M3, L3, D60, L86

Suggested Citation

Hermosilla, Manuel and Ni, Jian and Wang, Haizhong and Zhang, Jin, Leveraging the E-commerce Footprint for the Analytics of Healthcare Utilization (July 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3607594 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3607594

Manuel Hermosilla

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School ( email )

100 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

Jian Ni (Contact Author)

Johns Hopkins University ( email )

Baltimore, MD Maryland 21202
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/jiannicmu/

Haizhong Wang

Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) ( email )

135, Xingang Xi Road
Guangzhou, Guangdong 510275

Jin Zhang

Jinan University ( email )

Huang Pu Da Dao Xi 601, Tian He District
Guangzhou, Guangdong 510632

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