Monitored vs. Non-Monitored Medical Alerts

Joan Pabon
Jul 10, 2017

Medical alert systems are a straightforward way of ensuring the safety of your loved ones during illness, old age, disability, and even pregnancy. These systems have come a long way in the past decade, with medical alert companies now providing landline or cellular services with or without professional monitoring. When choosing between monitored and non-monitored systems, consider the advantages and disadvantages they each pose, keeping in mind the particular needs and health limitations of your family member or charge.

Monitored Medical Alerts

Most medical alert systems come with a base unit that includes a two-way intercom and a wearable device, usually a pendant or wristband, that allows the user to call for medical assistance with the push of a button. Newer mobile systems no longer require a base unit, allowing the wearer greater freedom and mobility through a device that functions via cellular coverage and comes with integrated microphone and speakers.When the alert button is pressed, or the device senses a fall—for those that feature fall detection technology—it will automatically dial for help.

The main difference between monitored and non-monitored systems is what happens after the alert button is pressed. With a monitored system, the device will notify the company’s monitoring center, and a live representative will reach out to the client to assess the situation and call the designated emergency contacts or medical services.

Non-Monitored Medical Alerts

Non-monitored medical alert systems work in much the same way, but instead of communicating with a monitoring center, they will either dial 911 directly or call the user’s emergency contacts, depending on the system. That means the non-monitored device will have to be programmed with a list of numbers the device will attempt to reach in the event of an emergency. 

In this case, when the button is pressed some systems play a recorded message letting the user know that help is on the way, while others allow them to speak to their emergency contacts or a 911 operator. Non-monitored systems often waive contracts and monthly fees, just requiring customers to purchase the equipment and test it themselves.

Similarities and Differences

Though both options offer prompt assistance in the event of an emergency, a monitored system may provide additional security and peace of mind for those who need a greater level of care and personalized support. If this is the case with you, compare providers and choose a company that offers 24/7 monitoring and employs duly certified emergency medical dispatchers. Some companies will even provide GPS-enabled devices and keep their customers’ medical information and other important details on file, helping emergency medical personnel reach the client's location better prepared and in less time. Monitored systems do, however, require a monthly monitoring fee that can range from $25 to $50.

If you are available to receive calls at any time and it’s possible for your loved one to speak with a 911 operator without any difficulty, a non-monitored system could be a suitable and inexpensive option. Nevertheless, non-monitored systems must be programmed with a set of emergency numbers by you or your loved one, following the enclosed instructions. These systems also need to be connected to a telephone plug, which could be inconvenient if your home has no such connectors. Monitored systems, on the other hand, provide a broad range of communication options, including mobile devices that function over a cellular network and come with integrated fall detection sensors.

Costs and Fees

The cost of medical alert systems varies, depending on the system itself and any additional features you select. As previously mentioned, monitored systems include a monthly fee which can reach up to $50 a month for mobile devices that offer coverage inside and outside the home. In addition to these, the customer may have to cover the cost of the equipment and applicable activation fees. Although non-monitored systems don’t require monthly fees, the cost of the equipment itself can range from $150 to $300. That may save you a lot of money in the long run, but you would be sacrificing the benefit of having around-the-clock professional assistance available.

When choosing between medical alert systems, consider other factors such as ease of setup and features. Look for easy to use devices that your loved ones can install themselves. Also, keep in mind both your budget and the needs of your family member or charge when comparing products. If you can, opt for a company that provides excellent customer service, even if the system is non-monitored. Above all else, a good medical alert should provide comfort and peace of mind for both users and their families, regardless of the type of system they choose.