Medical Alerts.

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Medical Alerts

What every informed consumer needs to know...

Medical alerts, also known as Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), are devices that a user wears on their person, which if activated will notify a monitoring company who can respond to the call for help immediately and dispatch emergency responders if necessary. Usually, medical alerts are associated with elderly people who are at risk of falling, having a stroke, or a heart attack. However, they can be extremely useful to anyone with serious medical concerns no matter what age.

Advances in technology, especially mobile GPS tracking systems, have not only helped make it possible for independent seniors to live active lives, but also allow parents to track their children, and people with disabilities or those who are suffering from diseases to have the peace of mind that help is a push of a button away.

 

Medical Alert Checklist

1.) Equipment

 

Watch the video here!

Basic medical alert systems are typically comprised of two pieces of equipment, the base unit and the emergency help button.

Whether you are looking for a medical alert for your home or want a Mobile GPS system that goes wherever you do, a base unit is essential to any medical alert system. The base unit is the device that receives the call for help when the emergency help button is pushed and passes the alert onto the monitoring station. All of the Top 10 Medical Alert Companies have emergency buttons and 2-Way Voice Communication built into all of their base unit systems, including home and mobile options. It’s important to note that the help button must be within range of the base unit for the help signal to be received. Base units for home systems have a backup battery in case there is a power outage; we suggest a backup battery life of 24 hours or more.  Mobile medical alerts have batteries that need to be charged after use and come with a docking station; we suggest a mobile battery life of at least 24 hours.

The Help Button (or pendants) are built into equipment like base units or wall mounted buttons, but also come as separate devices that can are worn on ones person, usually as a necklace or a bracelet. Alternative options for wearing your help button are available with some companies, however these are not as popular as necklaces or bracelets. Medical alert companies understand the importance of wearing the help button at all times, even in the shower or tub where most accidents happen, so most companies only use water-resistant or waterproof help buttons. To learn more about wearable help button options, check out this article.

 

Equipment & Features

  • Base Unit: The main device that receives signals from the help buttons and sends the alert to the monitoring station
  • Help Button: The button that sends the alert to the base unit, often located on a remote device that is worn on one’s person.
  • GPS Tracking:  Mobile medical alert system with tracking ability
  • 2-Way Voice Communication: A speaker system that allows for hands-free communication
  • Fall Detection: Sensors that are built into help buttons that will automatically call for help if activated
  • Wall Mounted Help Buttons: Additional equipment for home systems
  • Lockbox: A secure location to put a spare house key in case of an emergency

 

Most companies make moving around easy with light-weight devices and simple installation. In most cases all you’d have to do is call the medical alert company and let them know where you are. This is ideal for individuals who spend summer in cooler climates and winter in warm ones. Medical alert companies do not suggest you change your location of service unless you are planning to be away for more than two weeks, so if you travel frequently within the US, you may want to look at a mobile GPS system instead.

 

The Bottom Line:

In terms of equipment quality, there really isn’t much difference from company to company. However, not every medical alert company offers all of the features. Most medical alert equipment packages require you to choose between the different types of help buttons, so think about what type of button would work best for you or your loved one.

 

If you are shopping for a beloved senior, it is important to put yourself in their shoes. There is a lot to think about, so we’ve dedicated an article to help you select the system that will work with your loved ones needs.

 

 

2.) Coverage

 

Watch the video here!

In order for the help button to work, it must be within range of the base unit. Think of the range in terms of a circle or sphere. The base unit is the center of the circle and the range is the radius around it. Which means that if you change the location of the base unit within your home, you can adjust the area that is covered by the medical alert system. Make sure that your equipment has enough range to cover the yard and mailbox, not just your home. Accidents happen anywhere so covering the areas that are used regularly is necessary.

The range of the system can vary based on the equipment or on the type of connection the base unit uses to communicate with the monitoring station, however most companies offer a range of 600ft or more for home systems and 350ft for mobile systems.

The type of connection your medical alert system uses to communicate with the monitoring call center can also impact the range of your devices. 

  • A landline connection is the most common and baseline option available. The system connects to your home’s phone line and communicates with the monitoring center. Landlines tend to give your system a farther range around your home than the alternative, a cellular connection, but this can vary by company. Additionally, some systems have the capability of "seizing the line", or sending an alert to the monitoring station even if the phone line is in use or off the hook. If this is not built into your equipment, you can purchase a RJ31X jack, which is available for around $5. However, you will likely need to hire an electrician to install it.
  • A cellular (or wireless) connection uses cellular links to send signals between your medical alert system and the monitoring station. With this option you do not have to pay for the landline but you may find that the range is limited. Mobile GPS systems only use a cellular connection.
  • Most Medical Alert Companies offer BOTH Landline and Cellular connections for home systems.

Even though medical alerts were originally used to help in case of a medical emergency, they are far less common than you would expect. Rescue Alert reported that only 6% of their calls are for medical emergencies. When a medical alert user pushes the help button, instead of notifying the emergency responders, a user can have family members or friends contacted instead to assist them before dispatching emergency services. When you sign up for a medical alert system the company representative will help you come up with a care plan, or who to call if the help button is pushed. You will want to be prepared for this process by having the numbers and names of emergency contacts you would like the company to contact in case of an emergency. Additionally, providing important medical information such as health conditions or prescriptions will also be helpful to emergency responders if they are dispatched.

Additionally, some companies offer services to help monitor the well-being of the user. This could be routine wellness checks that requires the user to push the help button at regular intervals or at set times throughout the day to let the monitoring company all is well. Medication reminders are also an option with some companies, a representative will place a call to the system user at pre-determined times.

 

Compare the Top 10 Medical Alert Companies

  #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10

 

Bay Alarm Medical

Medical Guardian

ADT

GreatCall Splash

LifeFone

Alert1

LifeStation

Medical Care Alert

Care Innovations

Medical Alert

 Home Units

Connection Type

Landline or Cellular

Landline or Cellular

Landline or Cellular

Landline or Cellular

Landline or Cellular

Landline or Cellular

Landline or Cellular

Landline

Landline or Cellular

Help Button Range

1000 ft

600-1300 ft

300-600 ft

480-1500 ft.

600 ft.

500 ft.

1000 ft.

295ft.

600 ft

 Mobile Units

Connection Type

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Cellular

Help Button Range

Built into Device

350 ft.

100 ft.

Built into Device

350-600 ft.
(Built into Device and available as wristband or pendant)

600 ft.

650 ft.

600 ft 300 ft

Note: All systems provide coverage in the home. "Home Units" are stationary systems, while "Mobile Units" will cover you anywhere you go.

 

The Bottom Line:

Before you sign up for a medical alert think about the area that needs coverage both inside and outside of the home, then find equipment that has the range you need. Base units send alerts to the monitoring station through a landline or cellular connection, which can also impact the range of the help button depending on the company you use. Lastly, creating a care plan, and keeping it up to date with your medical alert company will allow more coverage options when the system is activated.

 

Some medical alert companies also offer fire & smoke and/or carbon monoxide detection in addition to medical alert monitoring. 

 

3.) Maintenance & Repairs

 

Watch the video here!

Most medical alert companies lease their equipment rather than selling it, which can make maintenance and repairs easy for you. You will want to make sure your company has a warranty or replacement policy. This way, if your equipment breaks as a result of normal wear and tear, you just have to contact your medical alert company and arrange to send it in for repairs. If the equipment is broken because of something outside of regular use, you may need to pay for the replacements. If you choose to purchase your system, these services may not be available without a warranty.

Many times, medical alert companies will also include help button battery replacement as a part of their service, and will preemptively send replacement batteries so you never have to go without working devices. If they don’t, batteries are not hard to replace, as you can always purchase them online or check the closest hardware store.

While most home base units are plugged into an electrical outlet in your home, they do come equipped with a back-up battery so if power is lost your equipment will continue to work. We suggest at least a 24-hour back-up battery for base units. However, it is not hard to find equipment with back-up batteries of 32 hours or more. If you have a mobile GPS system, a battery life of 24 hours is also recommended.

Another thing to look out for is if your medical alert company tests the equipment and connection on a regular basis. Most all medical alert companies perform silent tests throughout the day, however companies that also ask you to test you equipment with them regularly. If the company does not offer reminders or schedule times for tests, you can still test your equipment whenever you’d like, just let the representative know when they respond that all is well.  With smoke alarms you are supposed to test them annually, however with medical alert devices that can mean the difference between life or death, so you will want to ensure monthly or even weekly testing.

 

Maintenance & Repair Suggestions:

Understand your company’s replacement policy before signing up.

  • Normal wear and tear repair or replacement should be covered
  • Battery replacement could also be included

Battery Life

  • Make sure that there is a back –up battery life (home systems) or a battery charge (for mobile GPS system) of at least 24 hours.

Test you equipment regularly

  • Either set up appointments with the medical alert company
  • Or perform the tests yourself (DIY)

 

Compare the Top 10 Medical Alert Companies

 

  #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10

 

Bay Alarm Medical

Medical Guardian

ADT

GreatCall Splash

LifeFone

Alert1

Life Station

Medical Care Alert

Care Innovations

Medical Alert

Home Unit        Back-up Battery

32hrs.

32hrs

Between 12-20 hours

N/A

30-60 hrs

24hrs

32hrs

 72 hrs

30 hrs.

30 hrs.

Mobile Unit    Battery Life

72 hrs

24-36 hrs

24hrs

24hrs

24hrs

2 months

36hrs

4 months

N/A

30 hrs.

Testing

Weekly

Monthly

DIY

DIY

DIY

Every 28 days

Weekly

Automatic

DIY

DIY

The Bottom Line:

If you lease your medical alert equipment, many times companies will include maintenance and repair as a part of their service. If you are purchasing your equipment, make sure there’s a warranty that will replace your equipment if it is faulty. Some companies will even send you replacement batteries for help buttons. Base units with back-up batteries that last for 24 hours or more are ideal. Finally, make sure that your medical alert company performs equipment tests regularly, we suggest at least monthly.

 

Most medical alert companies have you install your system yourself. It is easy, saves you money and makes moving a breeze. It should only take about 5 minutes, and if you need help just call the company for guidance or you can always hire a handyman or ask a helpful friend or neighbor for help.

 

 

4.) Monitoring Services

 

Watch the video here!

Monitoring is one of the most important factors when shopping for medical alert systems. Your monthly payments ensure that you or your loved one has a service that quickly responds in case of an emergency, so knowing who is going to be there in a time of need is essential.

Look for medical alert companies that are certified by Underwriter Laboratories (UL) or have a 5-Diamond Rating from the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA). Additionally, make sure that the call-center representatives have been through extensive training and are prepared to handle the calls. We suggest looking for companies that put their call center representatives through 911 training, like Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) training. 

Medical alert companies don’t always maintain their own monitoring service and often partner with companies that focus on monitoring only and leave the equipment and sales up to the medical alert companies. Regardless of if you choose a company with its own monitoring centers or companies that partner with call-centers, make sure that the monitoring centers are located within the United States. Monitoring stations in the United States have stricter standards of operation and can be accredited by companies mentioned above. If the monitoring service is outsourced to another country the same standards may not apply. Additionally, we suggest companies that have more than one monitoring center in different regions of the US, so that in case one call center needs to be shut down, in the event of bad weather for instance, the other call center will be able to provide the coverage you or your loved ones may need.

The response time, or the time between when the help button is pushed and the monitoring station contacts the user, is also an important factor in selecting a good medical alert system. A minute could mean the difference between life and death, so we suggest an average response time of 30 seconds or less.

 

Monitoring Service Questions:

  • Are your monitoring call centers UL listed or CSAA 5-Diamond Certified?
  • Are your monitoring call centers located within the US? If so, where?
  • Are your call center representatives medically trained or have 911 operator training like EMT?
  • What is the average response time for answering alerts?

 

The Bottom Line:

It is essential that the medical alert companies and their monitoring centers have been certified by UL or have a 5-Daimond rating from CSAA. Call-center representatives should go through extensive emergency operator training to ensure they are prepared to handle any call that comes in, medical or not. Additionally, monitoring centers should be located within the United States. Multiple monitoring stations means that if one goes out of operation, coverage will not be interrupted.

 

If English is not your primary language, no problem! Most medical alert companies have multilingual representatives or use translation services to provide support in more than 100 languages! 

 

 

5.) Service Agreements

 

Watch the video here!

Look into if there is a cancellation policy for whatever medical alert company you are interested in. Some companies have no cancellation penalty and if you cancel mid-month, you will receive a reimbursement for the remaining time you have prepaid for. Other companies have policies in place that allow them to keep the prepaid amount even if you cancel early. Additionally, if you do want to cancel, some companies require a 30-day notice of cancellation.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you cancel your monitoring service, the company will require you to return any rented or leased equipment, sometimes at your own cost. Failure to return the company’s equipment, or if it is lost or damaged, may mean you have to pay to replace it (typically around $350).  Additionally, some companies will charge a restocking fee to return the equipment.  We suggest reading over the Terms of Service for more information on a company’s cancellation policies, so you aren’t surprised later down the road.

Trial periods backed by money-back guarantees are also available from several medical alert companies, and typically range from 14-30 days. Understanding the requirements for cancelling your service during the cancellation period can be very helpful as well. For instance, when does the trial period begin, when you sign up or when the equipment is delivered? When does the trial period end (when I call to cancel or once the equipment is returned)? By knowing this information up front, you can prepare accordingly without any unwelcome surprises.

 

When looking over your Service Agreement, watch for…

  • Long term contracts
  • Cancellation policies for pre-paid services
    • Will you be reimbursed for time unused, or will the company keep payments you’ve made upfront?
  • Equipment Return Policy
    • Are there “restocking fees” or other costs?
    • Who pays for shipping?
  • Trial Period Restrictions
    • When does the trial begin? When does it end?

 

Compare the Top 10 Medical Alert Companies

  #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10
  Bay Alarm Medical Medical Guardian ADT GreatCall Splash LifeFone Alert1 Life Station Medical Care Alert Care Innovations Medical Alert
Trial Periods 14 days No Trial No Trial 30 days  30 days 30 days 30 days 30 days 30 days 30 days
Commitment Month-by-Month 3 month minimum Month-by-Month Month-by-Month Month-by-Month Month-by-Month Month-by-Month 3 month minimum Month-by-Month 3 month minimum
Cancellation No money returned Pay for time used 30 day notice Pay for time used Pay for time used Pay for time used 30 day notice Pay for time used No money returned Pay for time used

 

The Bottom Line:

Read your Service Agreement carefully before signing up! Avoid long-term contracts and make sure you understand cancellation policies about pre-paid services and equipment returns. Trial periods can be helpful, but not all companies offer them.

 

Is there more than one person in the home who needs a medical alert? Many times a single base unit is able to recognize multiple help buttons, so companies will just add a small fee to the monthly bill for additional users (usually just the rental fee for the additional help button- about $4/month). 

 

6.) Cost

Watch the video here!

Your monthly bill pays for the monitoring service and any cost associated to renting or leasing equipment. Typically this bill is between $20-30 for month-by-month. If you pay in advance for the quarter or the year, you may be able to get a lower monthly rate.

Remember, a lower monthly rate doesn’t always mean the best deal. Lower monthly rates could mean that you have to pay additional hidden fees, or that the quality of service may not be up to your standards. When you sign up, watch out for hidden costs like activation fees, or installation fees. With good medical alert companies, you should not find these.

Most medical alert companies rent or lease their equipment, but some companies have the option to purchase the equipment upfront. We suggest renting or leasing the equipment for several reasons. With rental equipment, normal wear and tear is more likely to be covered so if your equipment is worn out, the medical alert company will send you a replacement. Additionally, if new technology is introduced, upgrading your equipment won’t mean you are left with outdated devices. 

Thoughts on Cost

  • Pre-paying for the quarter or year could help save you money!
  • Equipment is usually leased but the option to purchase is available with some companies
  • Watch out for hidden costs:
    • Installation Fees
    • Activation Fees
    • Restocking Fees
    • Shipping Fees

 

Compare the Top 10 Medical Alert Companies

  #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10
  Bay Alarm Medical Medical Guardian ADT GreatCall Splash LifeFone Alert1 Life Station Medical Care Alert Care Innovations Medical Alert

Cost 

(Starting at)

$25.00 $29.95 $34.95 $19.99 $29.95 $35.95 $29.95 $27.45 $24.95 $29.95

 

The Bottom Line:

A lower monthly bill does not always mean a better deal, so look out for hidden fees. Paying up front for the quarter or year can mean you pay less monthly. Medical alert companies offer leased equipment, but some give you the option to purchase, we suggest leasing so that the company will help protect your equipment over time and upgrading equipment is a lot less costly.

 

It’s not uncommon for the children of elderly parents to purchase the medical alert systems for them. Medical alert companies make it easy for the products and services connected to one home, but the bill to be sent to another address. If this is your situation, all you have to do is let them know when you sign-up! 

 

7.) Reviews

Selecting the Medical Alert System that is right for you or your loved one can be challenging, and reading reviews from consumers like you can be a great way to help you narrow down your options. When looking over reviews, here are a few things to think about.

  1. Statistical Significance: The overall company rating can be a good way to get a quick impression of the company as a whole, but this score can also be deceiving. Take a look at the number of reviewers that contributed to the overall company score. If there are only four reviews, the star rating probably won't be as strong of an indicator of consumer experience as if there were a few hundred reviews. 
  2. Word Sentiment: When reading the reviews, look for words that jump off the page. Are people using positive words like "great", "safe", "comfortable" and "happy"? Or are you seeing a lot of negative sentiments, like "bad", "slow", "unreliable", or "rude". If something seems off, make sure to read on to give yourself more context. In addition to star ratings, scanning for specific words can be a great way to get a sense of how satisfied customers are with the different systems and companies available to consumers.
  3. Customer Care: Does the company respond to feedback when given the opportunity? Did the responses feel genuine and receptive to resolving concerns? Or were they standoffish and defensive? If a company responds politely to their customer's feedback, whether it is positive or negative, this is a good indicator that they will be responsive to you as well. In the case that a company can't or doesn't respond, do any of the reviews mention how the company has handled complaints in the past?
  4. Learn from other people’s mistakes: When you see negative comments directed toward a company, think about how this issue could have been prevented. Is there something the consumer could have done differently to avoid this situation, like reading their terms of service or contacting the company sooner with concerns? Or is the company responsible, but doing nothing to resolve the problem? By thinking out what could have been done differently, you'll be better prepared to set realistic expectations for the product and services you purchase, but also help you decide whether to work with that company, or find another one who will be there for you even after the sale is made.

To find the best medical alert for you or your loved one, visit the Top 10 companies here!

Our Top Ranked Companies

Our Partner

9.85 / 10

Our Partner

9.265 / 10

Our Partner

8.725 / 10

Our Partner

8.715 / 10

Other Reviews:  Lifefone  •  Medical Care Alert  •  Alert 1  •  LifeStation  •  Link Medical Alert  •  Life Alert  •  Rescue Alert  •  Mobile Help  •  Freedom Alert  •  One Call Alert  •  MediPendant  •  Senior Safety  •  Life Beacon Wireless Medical Alert  •  Phillips Lifeline

Resources From Our Editors

7 Simple Ways You Can Prevent a FallTop 3 Senior-Safe Exercise TipsWhy I Got a Life Alert SystemTop 5 Tips to Mother's Day Success for GrandmaState of the Medical Alert IndustryIs a Medical Alert Worth It?Life Alert Buyer’s Guide - Systems, Costs & ReviewsMedical Alert Necklaces Medical Alert Buttons- Necklace vs. BraceletSenior Alert Systems

Common Questions

How do Medical Alert Systems work?
Who does the Medical Alert Company call if the button is pushed?
What happens if I accidentally push the button?
How much does it cost to get a Medical Alert System?
Can I get a Medical Alert System for my parents, but have it charged to me?
My house doesn’t have a landline, can I still get a unit?
Is installing a medical alert system in my home difficult?

Recent Consumer Reviews

7 / 10

I like feeling safer with having this equipment!  READ MORE
J
Judith Stimpson
ORLANDO, FLORIDA