Buying A Medical Alert System

Find out which medical alert system is best for you…

1) Who are you shopping for?

When searching for a medical alert system, it's important to ask some key questions about the company, equipment and pricing terms before you make a decision to purchase. In some cases, not asking the right questions could result in being locked into a long term contract that is difficult to get out of or ending up with equipment that is outdated and useless in your home.

We receive a ton of feedback from consumers about the potential pitfalls of not asking the right questions, as well as the very positive life-saving aspects of choosing the right company. We continue to add to the list of questions you need to ask before purchasing a medical alert system.

buying a medical alert system


10 Questions To Ask When Buying a Medical Alert System

Does your medical alert system require a land-line?

Today's IN-HOME medical alert systems are built with a land-line in mind. They connect directly to the phone jack, and they make a phone call on your behalf (if the emergency button is pressed). If you don't have a land-line to connect your base station, many companies now have a cellular-enabled base station. This provides connectivity from the base station to the call center. Your pendant button will still have a tethered range of 600-1200 feet (radius) from the base station.

What is the range of the IN-HOME medical alert system?

If you have a typical IN-HOME medical alert system, your emergency pendant button will be wirelessly connected to the base station (in order to alert the call center in case of emergency). The maximum distance between your pendant button and the base station is what we refer to as “range”. This range is usually discussed in terms of radius around the base station unit. The typical distances start at 600 feet (from the base unit) and some of the more robust units can accommodate up to 1,200 feet for larger homes or apartments.

What about cellular medical alert systems, are those an option?

Yes, they are a great option for the more mobile and/or able-bodied. Typically, cellular-enabled medical alert systems have no range issues (as long as you have cellular service). The cellular medical alert systems are available from most providers, but understand that they do cost a bit more per month. You can take these devices with you to the mall, the gym, or anywhere you wish.

Who installs the medical alert system?

This is pretty self-explanatory, but let me impart a few pieces of wisdom. Generally, these are pretty easy to set-up. We've set up a dozen or so units that we've tried/reviewed over the years, so they're not too complex. IF you're buying from a local dealer (Philips Lifeline has local dealers in markets around the country) they will set these units up for you. Usually, however, the consumer will set the unit up and test it prior to using.

Where is the call center located, and what are typical response times?

There are a few companies that have US-based call centers, and we think that's great if you can get it. However, some companies do outsource these types of services. What it really comes down to is the training of the call center staff. If the provider is worth their salt, they will have invested heavily in both customer service employees and call center staff. (More reason NOT to sign long-term contracts with medical alert system providers. IF you get a bad one, you'll want to leave… asap!)

Is the medical alert system waterproof?

Most of the medical alert systems on the market are not waterproof, they are water-resistant. This has been one of our major complaints about these little devices (pendant buttons). Bathrooms are a major source of emergencies/falls for older adults, and they should be worn while getting in and out of the tub/shower. Unfortunately, many are not meant to be submerged, so you'll want to verify whether you can wear it while showering and/or bathing.

Do you sell a device with “fall detection”?

Automatic fall detection notifies the call center automatically if it detects that the user has fallen. These pendant buttons contain an accelerometer just like your smartphone does. They send a signal based on a programmed algorithm that indicates whether a fall has occurred or not. It sounds great, and certainly has some benefits, but it's not perfect. You can read all sorts of stories about fall detection devices that don't detect falls consistently OR those that signal false positives (falls) too often. It's up to you whether you or your loved one require this feature, but just know it will be more expensive, and won't be perfect.

What if I no longer require a medical alert system? What is the return policy?

Here's where it gets tricky… The “less reputable” medical alert companies will lock you into a long-term (binding) agreement that forces you to pay through the end of your “term”. The companies that we most often recommend all encourage the consumer to opt for monthly or quarterly terms. This reduces the likelihood of being denied a big refund. Most of the reputable companies allow you to return the equipment and discontinue the service without the hassle. (IF they don't, we intervene and/or will drop them from our recommended list).

Most of the complaints you'll see on The Senior List or on other sites concern the PRODUCT RETURN ISSUE. No matter who you decide to do business with, make sure you're not getting locked into a long-term-agreement and make sure you can terminate at the time of your choosing. Ask to review the provider's Terms & Conditions document BEFORE you purchase your medical alert system… It's always best to read the “fine print” no matter how painful it is.

How much does the medical alert system cost?

Finally, you'll want to know what your medical alert system is going to cost you. Most of the better companies out there wrap their costs into a monthly package. For example, Bay Alarm Medical (a company we recommend often) offers 3 packages for their basic in-home medical alert system.

At Bay Alarm Medical, IF you pay upfront you can save a few bucks. If you pay for a 6-month package, your average monthly cost is $25. If you buy a quarterly package, your average monthly cost is $27. And if you opt for a month-to-month, you'll pay $29 per month. Should you need to cancel, Bay Alarm Medical will cancel your service and provide directions on how to return your equipment. They will not, however, prorate your balance and send you a refund. Make sure you understand your options ahead of time so there are no surprises should you need to cancel.

I hope that helps you ask the right questions prior to buying a medical alert system. If we left any out, let us know in the comments below!

5 Common Mistakes When Buying Medical Alert Systems

Do not make these five mistakes when buying medical alert systems. This is a list of the most common mistakes people make when buying medical alert systems. Don't fall into a trap, do your research and be patient.

Common Mistakes When Buying Medical Alert Systems

1. Not knowing whether you need an in-home (landline) system or a cellular-based medical alert system. In-home systems are the most common and consist of a base station (connected to your land-line) and a pendant that you wear around your neck, wrist or belt. If you're more active and plan on leaving the house for light errands, shopping, or visiting friends – Opt for the cellular option. If you're generally staying at home, an in-home system is just fine.

2. Do not get yourself locked into a long-term contract. We hate long-term contracts. There are some unscrupulous medical alert system providers that will attempt to get you to lock yourself (or loved one) into a 3-year contract. That means no matter what, you're paying that monthly fee whether you need it or not. All of the vendors that The Senior List recommends will refund your money (even if prepaid) if you don't need the medical alert system anymore.

3. If you live in a large home or multi-story home you need to know that your medical alert system is going to provide coverage for your safety. If not, you'll end up needing to avoid certain pockets or floors of your home for safety reasons. Thorough testing is necessary to make sure you have adequate coverage for your in-home medical alert system. If it isn't adequate, you'll need to opt for a cellular option.

4. Don't wait until a crisis happens to begin thinking about buying medical alert systems. This is the most common trap that consumers fall into – leading to bad decisions. Do your homework now.

5. When buying medical alert systems, you'll need support. Most of the medical alert providers do not have local install/service personnel. That means you'll need to do-it-yourself (or have a friend or family member assist you). Most of the hardware is very easy to install, and all of the vendors that we recommend provide remote help with installation and testing.

Buying Medical Alert Systems

Where's the Best Place to Buy Medical Alert Systems?

Medical alert systems offer invaluable peace of mind, but the process of choosing one can be an overwhelming task. Factor in the degree to which the internet has changed the way we shop and the shopping process becomes even more complex: How do you know where to find the best products? Selection? Prices? Policies? Let's take a closer look at the options when it comes to purchasing a medical alert system.

Option One: Big Box Stores

While some big box stores may offer a large selection and competitive prices, others are surprisingly limited in their offerings. Not only that, but you may feel adrift and alone when choosing to buy from one of these mega-marts.

If you've done ample research online and have complete confidence in your choice of medical alert system, it may make sense to buy from a big box store. However, if you require guidance in making your selection or have questions along the way, you may be out of luck at a big box store where employee knowledge may be limited about products, monthly contracts, and other factors.

Option Two: Online Retailers

Online retailers like Amazon offer many of the same advantages and downsides as big box stores. However, they also offer two additional benefits: the ability to easily comparison shop, as well as access to user reviews and feedback. Real user reviews can be particularly advantageous for consumers looking for honest insight into how well a particular product works.

As far as the element of customer service, however, professional help can be particularly hard to come by when it comes to shopping for a medical alert system online. Need a question answered or concern addressed? If you're lucky, a previous consumer may have covered the issue, but if not you may end up unprepared to make an informed decision.

Recommended medical alert systems

Option Three: Direct from the Manufacturer

While buying directly from a medical alert system company requires some advance research in order to narrow down your choices to a particular brand, product or service, it also offers unique benefits, including the fact that no one knows a particular system or its features better than the manufacturer. In purchasing directly from the company, you can be sure you're getting exactly what you need out of the system. In fact, many company websites offer user-friendly, side-by-side comparisons of systems and plans aimed at helping you make a smart selection. While it may take you more time to check out various companies and their websites, doing so ensures consumer confidence.

Another checkmark in the “pro” column? While big-box stores and online conventional retailers fall into the “jack of all trades” category, medical alert companies have one and only one specific area of expertise. This makes them a convenient one-stop resource for all things medical alert systems. In visiting a company's website, you can read its blog, watch videos and check out reviews in order to gain a complete, 360-degree view of a particular company's offerings.

No matter where you buy, online research can be an invaluable part of the process.

Have a question either before or after purchasing, when buying directly from the manufacturer? In addition to calling or emailing, you can also take advantage of the handy “Live Chat” feature offered by many companies.

One final thing to keep in mind when shopping for medical alert systems? You're not just buying a product, you're making an investment in your safety and well-being or the safety and wellbeing of a loved one. The more effort you put into the process, the more likely you are to find a medical alert system that best meets your unique needs and preferences.

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