Find out which medical alert system is best for you…
A medical alert system is a combination of hardware and software (usually in the form of a pendant button) that sends a signal to emergency personnel when attention is required. Medical alert systems, also known as personal emergency response systems (PERS), are most commonly worn by elderly or disabled individuals who may need to summon emergency personnel following a fall or other life-threatening occurrence.
How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
In their most basic form, medical alert systems provide a direct line of communication between a user and monitoring center personnel. The call center agents will then contact appropriate help, whether this be a neighbor, loved one, or emergency responders.
While these life-saving devices come in many shapes and sizes, they all share a few standard features:
- Help Buttons: Traditionally, these come in the form of pendants or wristbands, although many systems allow for additional help buttons mounted on walls or other surfaces. Regardless, help buttons allow the user to send out a distress call to the monitoring center. In most cases, wearable help buttons are water-resistant, meaning they can be worn in the bathroom, a frequent site of falls.
- Speakerphones: Once a call is initiated, a system’s speakerphone allows the user to communicate with monitoring agents. For in-home medical alert systems, the speakerphone is usually located on a base unit, one placed in a central location of the home. For mobile systems, the speakerphone and help button are often combined into one wearable device.
- Connection: Beneath every medical alert system is the mechanism through which it sends out distress calls. Most companies have systems that operate on either landline or cellular connection. Some recent systems can place calls through Wi-Fi.
The value of medical alert systems lies in their simplicity. While more than half of older adults own cell phones––which could theoretically be used to accomplish a similar function––medical alert systems provide a more streamlined and efficient way to obtain help. Especially for those with manual dexterity issues, typing out a phone number can prove difficult in the midst of a health emergency. Medical alert systems, however, require only one press of a button.
Different Types of Medical Alert Systems
Despite the plethora of medical alert systems and manufacturers, we can generally break down medical alert systems into several main categories.
- In-Home Medical Alert Systems protect users both in and around their homes. Through a combination of help buttons and a speakerphone-equipped base station, these systems allow the user to quickly connect to monitoring agents. Generally speaking, these systems are on the more affordable end of the spectrum.
- On-the-Go Medical Alert Systems protect users outside their homes. Powered by cellular connection, these systems can place emergency calls just about anywhere with good reception. Oftentimes, these systems are equipped with GPS technology, allowing the call center agent to relay your location to emergency responders.
- Medical Alert Smartwatches take all the functions of an on-the-go system and compress it into the discreet profile of a watch. Some added features of these systems include weather reporting, text messaging, and health metrics such as heart rate and step counters.
- Bluetooth Medical Alert Systems are a relatively new type of system. Through a wearable help button that pairs with your smartphone, a Bluetooth medical alert system allows users to quickly contact caregivers and loved ones. While this type of system rarely includes access to professional monitoring agents, this means you’ll have no monthly fees.
FYI: Recently, Bay Alarm Medical introduced the first in-car medical alert system, which can track the user’s location, in addition to sending out distress calls in the event of a crash.
Medical Alert Systems at a Glance
|Type of System||Protects You||Equipment||Monthly Costs||Ideal For|
|In-Home||In and around the home||Purchased or leased||$19.95 – $49.95||Users who spend most of their time at home.|
|On-the-Go||Outside the home||Purchased or leased||$24.95 – $60||Active adults who often leave the house.|
|Smartwatch||Outside the home||Purchased||$24.95 – $44.95||Active adults who want a discreet medical alert.|
|Bluetooth||Outside the home||Purchased||N/A||Smartphone owners who want to avoid monthly subscription charges.|
How Do I Buy A Medical Alert System?
Most medical alert systems can be purchased either over the phone or through a company’s website. Before purchasing a system, it’s important to know what goes into the price you’re charged.
Purchasing Vs. Leasing Equipment
In most cases, medical alert companies will not require you to purchase their equipment; rather, they’ll charge you a monthly rate that includes both the cost of leasing their system and the cost of professional monitoring. When you lease your equipment in this fashion, you won’t have to worry about breakage or repairs, as the company will simply send you new equipment in the event of malfunction or damage.
Alternatively, some companies either require or allow you the option of purchasing your system upfront. This will bring down your monthly costs, but it will also mean that a company will repair or replace your equipment only for the duration of its warranty. Smartwatch and Bluetooth medical alert systems usually must be purchased in this fashion.
FYI: With most medical alert systems, even if you purchase them upfront, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for monitoring; otherwise, you’re equipment will be rendered more or less useless.
Monthly Monitoring Charges
All medical alert systems will require a monthly charge for any type of professional monitoring. If you lease your equipment, both the equipment costs and monitoring charges will be lumped into one payment. Monitoring costs can range anywhere from $19.95 to $60 per month; however, discounts are often offered for annual––as opposed to monthly––payments.
Some medical alert companies offer different tiers of monitoring. For example, the GreatCall Lively has three different price levels. The cheapest option includes access to their monitoring center solely, while the most expensive plan adds on fall detection, a nurse hotline, and a caregiver portal.
Additional Features of Medical Alert Systems
No two medical alert systems work exactly the same. With this in mind, it’s important to choose a system that has the additional features you need. Here are some to look out for:
- Automatic Fall Detection: Arguably the most essential add-on of any medical alert system, fall detection will automatically trigger a distress call when it senses a user has fallen. Generally, this feature will cost an additional $10 per month.
- Backup Batteries: Since in-home systems are powered through a wall outlet, it’s important that they have a backup battery to remain powered through an electrical outage. For example, Medical Guardian’s in-home system has a backup battery life of 32 hours.
- GPS Technology: If you’re looking for an on-the-go medical alert system, be sure that it has GPS location technology. This way, should you trigger a distress call while running errands, the responders will know where to find you.
- Spouse Monitoring: Most medical alert systems include only one help button. However, if you live with a partner or roommate, it’s always nice to have the ability to add additional help buttons as opposed to purchasing additional systems. Lifefone, for example, offers spouse coverage at no additional cost.
- Medication Reminders: For those who have trouble managing their medications, many medical alert companies have the option of receiving daily reminders from their monitoring centers.
- Water-Resistant Help Buttons: Since the bathroom is one of the most common sites of falls, it’s important that a system’s help buttons can be taken into the shower. Most companies offer water-resistant buttons that can withstand water.
- Voice Commands: While most medical alert systems rely on pushing buttons to make emergency calls, some modern systems now support voice commands. For example, Aloe Care’s in-home system can contact monitoring agents when the user says, Emergency.
- Smartphone Apps: Nowadays, many medical alert systems can pair with smartphones. The actual user of the system does not need a smartphone; rather, caregivers and loved ones can download a system’s app in order to receive help notifications, set a schedule of care, or even monitor a system’s battery life.
- Motion Sensors: Whether they’re tucked away in the base station or built into the help button, motion sensors can track a user’s movement, alerting the monitoring center should a system go for a length of time without detecting movement.
- Risk-Free Trials: Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution for medical alert systems, I always recommend choosing a provider that offers a risk-free trial period. Most providers will allow at least 30 days, during which time you may return your equipment for a full refund.
9 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Medical Alert System
As you begin your search for the ideal medical alert system, you should keep in mind the following questions:
- Do you spend most of your time at home, or do you frequently find yourself out and about?
- Do you have a landline, or would you require a cellular system?
- Do you prefer wearing a help button as a pendant or as a wristband?
- How large is your home, and will a system’s range cover you in every room?
- Are you prone to falls, and will automatic fall detection come in handy?
- Do you live alone, and would a spouse or roommate require additional help buttons?
- Do you only need emergency monitoring, or would you prefer a system that can also put you in contact with loved ones?
- Does the system automatically test itself to ensure proper function?
- If you don’t like your system, can you return it for a refund?
Be Wary of Contracts: While many providers will give you discounted rates for signing an annual service agreement, you should be wary of any medical alert provider that requires you to lock into a long-term contract.
Top Medical Alert Systems
It can be difficult to choose the right medical alert system. To start your search, I’d recommend checking out our list of the best medical alert systems of 2021 and our medical alert system reviews. Additionally, here are some of our favorite medical alert companies, all of which have solutions for both in and out of the home.
MobileHelp provides the most comprehensive medical alert equipment you will find on the market today. In fact, many other alert companies use MobileHelp’s equipment––it’s that good! MobileHelp offers cellular and in-home medical alert systems as well as optional fall detection. The MobileHelp Duo is also one of the only medical alerts to include both an in-home device and a mobile cellular unit, making it the perfect solution for couples.
They require no long-term contracts, and both shipping and activation are free with most plans. You can try MobileHelp risk-free for 30 days, and pricing starts at $29.95 per month for a monthly plan.
Medical Guardian offers a variety of options for their customers, and we really like the high-quality alert systems they provide. No long term contracts (90-day minimum), flexible pricing plans (Annual, Quarterly, Monthly), free standard shipping, no set-up fees, and no equipment costs only sweeten the deal.
Each time we pushed the help button for testing, the monitoring agents on the other end of the line were very professional and courteous. We also like the sleek, updated hardware that may be easier to convince a loved one to wear. Medical Guardian starts at $29.95/month (based on every 3-month billing) for an in-home system.
Bay Alarm Medical
Bay Alarm Medical offers in-home medical alert system options as well as cellular mobile options. They also offer a medical alert smartwatch and the first in-car medical alert system. Starting at $19.95 per month for their in-home system, Bay Alarm Medical offers some of the most affordable medical alert systems available. Their handy app also makes it easy for caregivers to keep track of their loved one, looping them into a greater care plan.