Medical Alert Systems – The Top 10 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying

top 10 questions you should ask before buying a Medical Alert System

Medical Alert Systems (or personal emergency response systems) are wonderful devices that allow aging adults the opportunity to remain in their homes (more safely), and stay as independent as possible.  Keeping up with this new technology is difficult, and knowing the right questions to ask is even harder!  If you haven’t seen our Medical Alert System Round Up you should check it out, and provide feedback (especially if you’ve had experience with any of the featured manufacturers).


Today’s focus on Medical Alert Systems is aptly titled The Top 10 Questions To Ask When Evaluating Medical Alert Systems.  So without further adieu… Here is our Top 10 List (drum roll please):

Top 10 Questions To Ask Before Buying a Medical Alert System

1.  Does this medical alert system work with VOIP (voice over internet protocol) telephone services?  If you have Comcast or Verizon cable at home, chances are that you might also be using them for your (home) phone service.  If that’s the case, you are likely are using a VOIP plan (just as we here at The Senior List are with Vonage, another major VOIP provider).  Many of the traditional medical alert system providers recommend checking with your home (VOIP) phone provider to see whether they offer local 911 (and other) services.  So keep this in mind, and ask*. (*Note:  The alert system providers will know about their compatibility with the major phone service providers.)Medical Alert Systems - top 10 questions you need to know

2.  What is the range of my alert system?  MOST of the major medical alert system providers have the following components included in their “systems”.  A base station and a pendent of some kind (necklace – worn around the neck, belt clip, or wrist watch like device.  The myHalo system even has a chest strap).  MOST of the pendants need to communicate (wirelessly) with a base station that is connected to your home phone line.  So, you need to know the range of that pendant to the base station.  Usually this range covers most normal sized homes, and is in the neighborhood of 400-600 feet.  After installation be sure to test out the range inside (and outside) the home.

3.  Does someone install this for me, or do I do it myself?  Many manufacturers have sales/marketing representatives that will come to your home and install/test the system for you.  They usually charge a one time set-up fee for this service so ask about that fee is ahead of time! If all they do is send the alert system to you, make sure there is ample literature (on and off line) for assistance with set-up AND testing.  Always TEST your medical alert system before using it.

Medical Alert Systems - What you need to know4.  Do I need a land line to use this medical alert system?  In most cases the answer will be YES, but there are a few exceptions.  For example, The MobileHelp Medical Alert System has a small hand-held device that connects to AT&T Wireless for use outside the home (anywhere covered by AT&T).  To use their pendant (small necklace) device around the home, you still need a land line however.  Also, The Wellcore Personal Emergency Response System boasts the ability to interface with some cell phones to extend the range of their device outside the home.

5.  Who staffs your call center, where are they located, and what are the average response times?  OK, this is a bit of a loaded question, because “outsourcing” call centers has been a trend that many, many companies take advantage of.  Frankly, I’ve found great service from call centers all over the world, and the only thing you need to be wary of here is PERFORMANCE.

6.  Does the medical alert system come with other services?  Some medical alert systems come with additional services such as medication reminders, glucose monitoring reminders, and the like.  It’s good to know what other services can be included with the purchase of your services, so make sure you ask what’s included.

7.  What happens if something goes wrong with my equipment?  Most of us hate reading the fine print.  I challenge anyone out there to read the “terms and conditions” of the 5 or 6 medical alert devices you want to evaluate (gives me a headache even thinking about doing that again).  So that in mind, I would encourage anyone making a decision on a particular device to ask; What happens if your system goes down?  Does someone come out to fix it?  Will they send you another one asap?  Do you need to send the disfunctional system back? etc.   Also, one other point… when you have narrowed down your choice, read the fine print by looking up the terms-and-conditions of the particular provider on their websites.

8.  Does the medical alert system include “automatic fall detection”?  Medical alert systems have come a long way in the last 5 years.  Today’s advanced systems can detect when a user has fallen automatically.  It’s all in the advanced algorithms developed by brilliant engineers and embedded into smallmedical alert systems devices which are saving lives everyday.  These smart-systems can distinguish (in most cases) between when someone has actually fallen, and when someone has decided to sit down abruptly.  “The big three” that (currently) offer automatic fall detection are Halo Monitoring Systems, Wellcore Personal Emergency Response (now discontinued), and Philips Lifeline with auto alert.

9.  Am I purchasing these devices, or leasing them, or neither?  Goes back to my prior suggestion about reading the fine print… Find out (ahead of time) whether the equipment is yours or not.  What happens if you no longer require the equipment?  What happens if you damage the equipment?

10.  What is my total yearly cost?  This gets down to it… How much does this cost me each year (total cash outflow).  Enough said…

Click this link for a list of Local Personal Emergency Response System Providers that have added their business listings to The Senior List Eldercare Directory!

If you found this Top 10 List helpful, please pass it along to those in need.  Also, if you have additional important questions to add to the list, please do share!!!

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  1. says

    I am totally satisfied with the medical alert systems that you mentioned in the article. Thanks for sharing, this is very helpful. I shared this with my friends too. Keep going this way…

  2. Kathy G says

    It is hard to tell a senior about these medical alert systems when the companies do not give any information on the ‘system’ or the different parts in the system. Is there a generic company, detail diagram of how the medical system is connected? And most importantly, how does the signal travel from the button (on the necklace) to the person responding to the call? Example : Necklace to base unit is by radio waves — Base unit to monitoring company, by land line or cell phone signal, so a working phone line is required.

    What is a DSL Filter (if required)? Where is it placed in the system?
    What is the difference between the power cord and the signal cord?
    Is ‘range’ line-of-sight or though the walls of a house?
    Does a doctor (MD) have to sign for permission for a person to get a system?

    Thank you, Kathy G

    • says

      Hi Kathy: You pose some good questions, and I think we’ll include them in a new article/post. Until then, here are my thoughts.

      1. Is there a detail diagram of how the medical alert system is connected? I don’t have a diagram, but here is a nice tutorial on the typical components of a traditional (land line based) medical alert system, and how they work: This is NOT an endorsement of this provider or their products, but they provide a nice example.

      2. How does the signal travel from the button to the call center? For a land line based medical alert system the pendant uses a specific communication frequency to the base unit. The base unit then dials the medical alert provider’s call center. The call center usually attempts to communicate (via the base unit) with the user, and if there is no response they dispatch a predetermined responder (ambulance or family member). For a cellular based medical alert system the mobile unit contacts the call center directly, and they dispatch as described above. The base units for the cellular based medical alert devices usually act as charging stations.

      3. What is a DSL Filter and where is it placed? (per wikipedia) “A DSL filter or microfilter is an analog low-pass filter installed between analog devices (such as telephones or analog modems) and a plain old telephone service (POTS) line, in order to prevent interference between such devices and a digital subscriber line (DSL) service operating on the same line.” These accessories are very common since nearly every cable/phone company has moved from analogue to digital services. I believe these accessories (if needed) are inserted into the line prior to entering your land-line plugin area. Here is a picture of a DSL filter.

      4. What is the difference between power cord and signal cord? I’m not sure what signal cord is referring to, but it may simply refer to the medical alert system’s antennae. The power cord connects your base unit to the wall socket.

      5. What does “range” refer to? The typical range of a traditional medical alert system is around 600-800 feet. This is a radius around the base unit, and depends on a number of factors including penetration through walls, signal interference (with other gadgets), etc. This range issue has led to a growing popularity of cellular based medical alert systems which have no range issues (other than the wireless signal from the carrier).

      6. Does a doctor have to sign for a medical alert system? No a doctor does not have to sign anything. If your insurance provider covers this type of thing, you may need a doctors order, but this is a rare exception.

      Hope that helps, Amie.

  3. Jackie O'Brien says

    Great article. Being in the home care and assisted living industry I truly believe it’s paramount for seniors to have some kind of medical alert system in place. This is something that my company, Home Instead, which offers assisted living in Loudon NH, has advised all of our clients about. You can never be too careful when it comes to the safety of your loved one.

    – Jaclyn

  4. qbutton says

    Also, medical alert companies who mail the equipment to you state that you simply have to plug it in, but remember to ask if an adapter is needed. Also, find out how often they test the system. If it’s also connected to a smoke alarm (which you may pay a one time charge of $50 for) you need to that system is functioning. Also, call to let them know if you change phone companies or phone number. People forget.

  5. Sherry Canon says

    That blog is gonna be useful! I am thing of thinking of hiring the services of a company called My Alarm Care in Canada. It is a senior alarms company. Thanks for the information.

  6. Torontoron says

    Are all these devices available in Canada?. Also are these either tax deductible or covered by insurance ?

    • The Senior List says

      Most of these are available in Canada Torontoron. Not sure about the tax or insurance implications however… Maybe someone else here at TSL could help answer this question…

      • qbutton says

        Medical alert systems are not considered a “must have ” item in New York. Insurance, therefore, does not cover the costs.

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