Find out which medical alert system is best for you…
We do so many articles, posts, and reviews1 of the latest medical alert systems that we thought we'd take a step backward and cover the basics. Many people don't even understand what a medical alert system is, or what they're designed for. So let's cover this in a brief Q&A session.
What Are Medical Alert Systems?
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 the elderly or disabled individuals who may need to summon emergency personnel following a fall or other life-threatening occurrence
What Do Medical Alert Systems Look Like?
Here's a typical combination of a pendant button (usually worn around the neck) and a corresponding base station (which communicates with the pendant). After the pendant button is pushed it sends a signal to the base station.
When the base station receives the emergency signal from the pendant, it calls a pre-programmed number (usually a call-center) where emergency responders/operators are standing by to assess the situation.
After receiving an emergency call, the operators in the call center usually call-out to the person in distress over the base station's loudspeaker. The base station also has a microphone inside that detects a response from within the home (if the person in distress can speak). The call center operator then sends emergency personnel if required, or calls a family member, or a neighbor depending on the situation.
Are There Different Shapes & Sizes?
Yes, medical alert systems come in all shapes and sizes. There are traditional pendant style medical alert systems, speakerphone medical alert systems, cellular medical alert systems (for the more mobile), activity tracker type systems, and combination phone/medical alert systems. See above for a few of the different types out there.
How Do I Buy A Medical Alert?
For many, it's hard to know where to start. We've published a lot of helpful articles here on The Senior List® to help guide you along the way. Here are 3 good rules to follow as you go down this path. First, after doing some research based on your individual needs, narrow down your choices to a top 3 list. Second, don't make these mistakes when purchasing a medical alert system, we see these a lot. Third, make sure you ask these questions when speaking to each of your top 3 medical alert providers.
Finally, if you didn't jump to any of the aforementioned articles, remember this: Do not sign a long-term contract that doesn't allow you to exit the agreement with little or no penalty. You must understand the termination provisions explicitly (if nothing else) so you're not stuck paying a monthly bill when you no longer need the service, or if you've chosen the wrong medical alert provider.
Everything to Know About Medical Alert Systems
Unlike referral focused websites, our goal at The Senior List® is to educate you about medical alert systems – and arm you with the right questions to ask when researching these devices.
We have done extensive research (over many years) on medical alert systems, and our recommendations have saved our readers time, money, and headaches. We hope this medical alert guide provides the information you can use to make the best decision possible for your family.
Unfortunately, many people may not have the luxury of time to do extensive research on medical alert companies. “Pushy salespeople”, “guilt-trip to purchase equipment that was not right for me” and “I'm locked into a long-term contract” are common complaints we receive about the medical alert industry. Don't fall into these traps.
Medical Alert Guide- Read This Before You Buy
Our goal is to provide you with the following:
- A list of what to look for (and avoid) when researching medical alert systems.
- An overview of medical alert technology and the different types of systems on the market today.
- Lastly, our list of recommended medical alert systems based on our own in-depth reviews and years of compiled feedback from consumers like you.
Buying Medical Alert Systems: Common Mistakes
We have identified six common mistakes that are made when purchasing a medical alert system.
- Choosing the wrong type of medical alert system for your needs.
Medical alert systems can be home-based or cellular. Do you prefer a pendant or a watch? Some pendants have a speakerphone, is this important to you? Many falls happen in the bathroom, is the device water-resistant?
- Locked into a long term contract.
What happens if you don’t need it anymore? How long are you obligated to pay the monthly monitoring fee? Is there a return and refund policy? Who pays for return shipping?
- Not enough coverage for the size of your home.
In-home units have a range anywhere from a 400-1500 square feet radius. Walls can impact this range. If you plan to travel outside your home, does your system have a cellular option?
- Waiting too long to start using a medical alert system.
Do your research before an emergency arises. Signs such as unsteady gait, weakness, living alone and a history of falls are all indicators that safety is at risk. Medical alert systems can help people live at home longer because they provide an additional layer of safety and communication if help is needed.
- Getting a system that is difficult to install.
Who installs the system? Does a representative visit your home? What support is available if you install it yourself? Is special equipment needed?
- Hidden fees.
It can be difficult to weed out hidden fees at first glance. Make sure you read the fine print and contract, understand if there are fees for the equipment, or if you will have to pay a penalty if you cancel the service.
Now that you have some questions to think about, you can take the time to evaluate what is important to you in searching for the right medical alert system.
Medical Alert Systems: Features of a Modern Medical Alert
Let us cover the different types of medical alert devices and the features available in today's modern systems.
In-Home vs Cellular Medical Alerts
Are you homebound or someone who frequently comes and goes from home? The answer to this question will play a large part in determining what type of system you should look for. There are two main types of medical alert systems on the market today: In-Home and Cellular.
In-Home medical alert systems generally require a landline phone connection in the home, although there are also in-home systems that can use a cellular signal and do not require a phone line. A base station will connect to the phone line and an electrical unit. When the button is pressed on the accompanying pendant, the base station places a call to a call center of trained professionals. In-Home systems are best for those who spend the majority of their time in or around the home in order to stay within the base station range of 400-1500 sq/ft.
Cellular medical alert systems are able to provide coverage anywhere a typical cell phone would work (depending on cell carrier). Cellular alert devices perform in a similar way to in-home systems by connecting the user to a call center once the button is pressed. Cellular systems are great for people who travel, are able to drive or are always on the go. Cellular devices can be worn discreetly around the neck, on a belt clip or placed in a pocket or purse.
Fall Detection is a newer feature of medical alert systems. Ideally, the device automatically activates and places a call to the call center if a fall is detected without the user having to press the button. While this is a nice feature to have, it is not 100% accurate and may not detect all falls. The technology used is similar to the accelerometers in smartphones which detect motion if the phone has been tilted or flipped.
GPS Enabled medical alert devices help the call center professionals to determine the user's location even if the user themselves does not know (or can't remember) where they are. GPS technology is extremely accurate and can usually determine a user's position within a few meters.
Must-Have Features of a Medical Alert Device
Regardless of what type of medical alert system you choose, we believe there are a few non-negotiable features that every device should have.
Water Resistant: Since 80% of falls occur in the bathroom, and it only makes sense to wear an alert device in the shower, we must insist that it is water-resistant or better yet, waterproof.
Comfortable and Lightweight: One of the worst things that could happen after investing in life-saving technology like a medical alert system is that your loved one doesn’t wear it.
Long Battery Life: Like comfort, if a device needs to be charged daily, chances are it won't get worn. Some cellular devices can only last for a few days on a single charge, the longest we have seen is one month.
Adequate Range: A medical alert system is useless if the transmitter is not strong enough to make contact with the base station from all areas of the living space — both inside and outside. Be sure to check the range of the device shortly after installation to ensure it will provide coverage throughout the living area.
Money Back Guarantee: The best providers today will offer a 15-30 day return policy if you are not satisfied with the product. From there, you are most likely on a month-to-month plan (quarterly and annual may be offered as well) that won't be refunded if you cancel mid-term.
Now that you know about the different types of systems and the best features available, you are ready to start doing some serious research. Fortunately, we have done some of the work already.
Top 4 Medical Alert Systems
We hope you have enjoyed learning about medical alert systems and that you feel better armed to make a good investment when the time comes to make a purchase. In order to determine who the “top-rated” systems are, we look for the following: quality and reliability of the hardware, innovative up-to-date technology, ongoing stellar customer service and reasonable monthly cost.
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 that include an in-home device, plus a mobile (cellular) unit, making it the perfect solution for couples. There are no long term contracts, easy to understand pricing, free activation and free shipping for most plans. You can try MobileHelp risk-free for 30 days, pricing starts at $29.95/month for a monthly plan. Read the full review of MobileHelp.
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, no equipment costs, and easy to install. Great service- each time we pushed the button for testing, the customer service reps on the other end of the line were very professional and courteous. Excellent range on the in-home system (1300 feet). 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. Read the full Medical Guardian review.
Bay Alarm Medical offers in-home medical alert system options as well as cellular mobile options. The in-home medical alert system is offered for use with a traditional landline, OR a cellular style base station option (if you don’t have a landline in the home). Bay Alarm also has a mobile (cellular) alert system with GPS for those who want coverage outside the home. Bay Alarm Medical in-home systems start at $27/month with the semi-annual pan and cellular systems start at $35/month with the semi-annual plan. Read the full review of Bay Alarm Medical.
GreatCall Lively Mobile, makers of the award-winning, easy-to-use Jitterbug cell phones with health & safety services also has a standalone medical alert device called the Lively Mobile. GreatCall offers three different tiers of mobile medical alert service: Basic, Preferred and Ultimate. Included in Preferred is Urgent Care which allows you to Speak to a live nurse or board-certified doctor, 24/7 without an appointment. GreatCall Lively Mobile costs start at $24.99. Read the full review of GreatCall Lively.