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An In-Depth Look at Medical Alert Systems from the PERS Summit

A few weeks ago, I attended the PERS Summit hosted by AvantGuard Monitoring Centers, in beautiful Park City, UT. The gathering consisted of medical alert providers, dealers, equipment manufacturers, a top-notch monitoring company and a variety of exciting new companies entering the alert systems market.

Amie talking to vendors at the PERS Summit.
Amie talking to vendors at the PERS Summit.

While  myself and others at The Senior List® have reported on the medical alert industry for several years, this was one of the best opportunities we've had to get an up-close look at what it takes to save a life when that button is pressed.

From design, manufacturing, product development, distribution, monitoring and customer service, we had the pleasure of meeting the best-of-the-best in the medical alert industry.

Monitoring Centers Save Lives

medical alert call center
AvantGuard's headquarters in Ogden, Utah

Our first stop was a tour of the AvantGuard headquarters in Ogden, UT.  AvantGuard provides monitoring services for security, fire and medical alert system alarms across the U.S.  AvantGuard has two geographically separated monitoring centers so the service they provide is completely duplicated if/when natural disasters or other issues might occur.

When the button of an medical alert device is pressed, a real person in Rexburg (Idaho) or Ogden (Utah) answers the call.  As we toured the AG headquarters, I was impressed with how smoothly and calmly employees and operators worked as they were in the process of saving lives.

We heard several stories of operators going out of their way to make sure help was on the way, like the story of a woman who pressed her alert button during a recent hurricane.  The operator was unable to get through to dispatch in Houston and ended up contacting the Red Cross who was able to rescue the woman from her home.

This was one of many heart-warming stories we heard about how a life-saving device was backed by a real person who  didn't give up until a solution was identified, took quick action and saved a life. You can see more great stories about other AG Heroes at the AvantGuard website.

AvantGuard Heroes. These are the faces behind the well trained operators saving lives.
AvantGuard Heroes. Back row, from left to right: Jakob, Connor, Samuel, Michael and Jeff
Front row, from left to right: Gerdon, Christian, Morgan, Hayley and Ayala

The folks at AvantGuard have mastered alarm-monitoring, which is why many of the top home security and medical alert companies put their trust in AG to provide monitoring for clients.

What's New in the Medical Alert Industry?

While medical alert systems have been around for the past 30 years, up until 5 or so years ago, not much had changed. The equipment all looked about the same and did the same thing. Push a button within the range of a base station in your home and get help via a monitoring center at the other end.  The marketing approach was (and still is in some cases) fear-based (remember the “Help, I've Fallen and I can't get up” video?) and long term contracts were the norm.  Fortunately, both of these are going the way of the dinosaur.

Fast-forward to today, there have been some major disruptors in the traditional medical alert space.  Cellular medical alert systems now account for more than half of the alert systems in use. Fall detection technology continues to improve and detect falls with increasing accuracy. And there are some disruptors coming in fall detection too, stay tuned.

The form factor of medical alert systems is changing, getting smaller and a little less “medical” looking. I'm personally excited about companies who are dedicated to being different in this area.  Companies that might produce life-saving products that DON'T LOOK LIKE life-saving products. 🙂 Here's a sneak peek at a beautiful new take on medical alerts.  Stay tuned for my in-depth review of this one from ORA.

ORA- a beautiful take on medical alert systems
ORA- an attractive approach to medical alert systems that people might actually wear.

Chat (text) with the monitoring center for real time updates about your loved one.

A new feature for medical alert and home security monitoring comes from the ever-innovative AvantGuard team called the “AG Chat Tool”. The chat tool allows the monitoring center to send a text message to all the contacts on a user's account alerting them to events like “help was needed, paramedics are on the way”.  The chat can then turn into a group chat where operators are able to post updates in the chat as help is being dispatched.

This feature saves families and caregivers time, allowing the conversation about mom or dad to happen in one place, instantly, instead of the flurry of phone calls and texts that can occur between multiple family members during an emergency.  Additionally, if the call for help was a false alarm, the chat tool sends out a message that the button was pressed, but no help was needed.  This feature increases interaction between the monitoring center and users and brings even more value as part of the monthly fee.

What's the Future of the Personal Emergency Response Systems?

There was plenty of discussion at the PERS Summit about where the medical alert industry is headed. I got the sense that some are worried about companies like Google and Amazon moving in on the action.

With products for smart connected homes becoming more mainstream and companies like Kytera taking a new approach to smarter in-home technology, I'd like to assert that the industry is changing as we speak.

Kytera offers safety at home for seniors
New start-up company: Kytera

Voice recognition is here and it's coming for the emergency response world.

A bold prediction from Laurie Orlov, a tech industry veteran, was that voice will make the button obsolete. Imagine, no more “push the button to get help”, it may be more like “Alexa- I fell down, please call for help” or simply activating an alert by talking to your alert pendant.

I came away from the PERS Summit excited about the future of medical alert systems. Not only are these life-saving alert devices getting smaller and prettier (all the women will appreciate this, trust me), the companies behind them are striving to understand the people they serve and are asking “what do our users want”?

Medical Alert Conference
Beautiful Park City – Host City of PERS Summit 2017

I've said it before, I'll say it again….

A drum we have been beating from day one was reinforced by talking to medical alert industry insiders. Read the contract. I can't emphasize this enough, so I'll say it again. Read the Contract!!!  Contracts in the home security and medical alert system industry have come a long way, but more needs to be done to make sure the consumer understands the contract.

Understand the Contract

  • What are you signing up for?
  • What is the monthly fee?
  • What does the monthly fee include?
  • How long is the term of your contract?
  • How much notice needs to be given if you no longer need the service?
  • Do you own the equipment?
  • What happens if the equipment becomes damaged or lost?
  • Are pre-paid terms refundable or pro-rated if you no longer need the service?

Understand the Equipment and the Company

There are many good companies and excellent people who want to help others in the medical alert business and I was thrilled to meet a good number of them. In addition to the Top 10 Questions to Ask When Researching a Medical Alert, I'd encourage consumers to ask the following:

  • Where is the monitoring center located? Is it U.S. based or overseas?
  • Who manufactures the equipment?
  • How often is the equipment updated? Is it updated automatically or does an installer need to visit?  Will your unit be obsolete in a year or two?

Stay tuned for in-depth reviews about exciting products and companies we saw at the PERS Summit. In the meantime, if you are looking for top medical alert systems, check out our comparison page.

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