A new app that allows for real time data on prices for everyday products could have big implications for health care. Price inflation for consumer products like milk and eggs is usually calculated by the Labor department, which collects data on prices once a month and releases a monthly report. Now, the WSJ reports, Premise Data Corp has found a better way to get prices out there:
Premise has deployed 700 smartphone-equipped workers across 25 cities to capture images of products as their prices change daily. Software automatically tags the location of the products down to the individual store and analyzes the images—items such as meat and produce—to gauge quality differences. A user viewing the information can zoom in on images of the products at each retail location, making it a store-shelf version of Google Street View.Premise’s computers also scroll through websites to automatically grab prices from Internet stores, a process that still provides about 80% of the data the firm uses to create real-time inflation gauges.
Currently, this service is only being used by a small group of firms, banks, and companies. But it could eventually be democratized, helping ordinary consumers improve their shopping budgets by searching for bargains in real time. Beyond that, it could empower consumers beyond the supermarket and shopping mall—in their health care choices.For example, a data stream with real time price updates on medical services nationwide could become an important tool for discerning whether a doctor or other provider is overcharging. Given the widely and mysteriously varying prices that currently characterize the system, a tool like this could be a huge step toward restoring consumer power.[Photo of stethoscope and money courtesy of Shutterstock.]