What’s a Medical Alert System?
A medical alert system is a device set up in your home with or without a mobile component, which can call for assistance in the event of a health emergency. Typically, this is at the very least a base station for the home, which is plugged into the wall, and/or a pendant button worn around the neck or a wristwatch.
During a medical emergency, the wearer of this device can press a button and summon emergency help. They can also be paired with a mobile device, which the user can carry with them, in order to have emergency coverage even when out of the house.
Medical alert systems typically are associated with seniors who have mobility and health problems, but they are also used by people far younger who have medical issues which may require unexpected, immediate assistance.
In-Home vs Mobile Devices
Just about every medical alert system has an in-home station so that the user can be covered when they’re at home, but the limited mobility this provides isn’t right for everyone. With a mobile device, you are covered even outside of the house, typically by way of a pendant or a wristwatch.
The mobile devices are linked with a cellular company and use GPS and cellular technology to allow the user to travel freely and still be able to call for assistance if needed. These can make a huge difference in quality of life for people who otherwise would feel compelled to stay close to home so that they can be sure to call for assistance.
How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?
The basics of the devices are the same whichever company you choose. Press the button on your medical alert necklace or on the medical alert system, and you will be on the line with a professional in under a minute. But similarities tend to end there. One good example is monitoring. Some companies simply have a 24/7 call center that can dispatch emergency services or call loved ones in the case of an emergency. Others have powerful automatic monitoring of fire/smoke or carbon monoxide.
Intruder alerts or the ability to speak to and get help from board certified doctors are niche features you might be interested in, too. If you have a large home, check that the range suits your needs. This can vary from 400 feet to 1,500 feet, with unlimited range across the United States for mobile solutions. This is especially helpful if you want to choose a medical alert system which allows you to pick up regular phone calls from the medical alert necklace or wristband itself.
While historically many medical alert devices relied on a landline to get up and running, this is no longer a necessity. Both cellular at home options, as well as completely wireless mobile medical alert devices are now popular.
Emergency Medical Alert Systems with Fall Detection
Falls are one of the leading causes of injury for people 65 and older. According to the CDC, one in four older adults suffers from a fall every year. One out of five of those falls causes serious injuries such as broken bones or head trauma.
Because of this, automatic fall detection is an important feature offered by medical alert systems. Many of the medical alert companies in our review offer this feature with their wearable devices, either built-in or as an optional add-on.
Automatic fall detection utilizes advanced motion-sensing technology embedded in the wearable device to detect when your or your loved one has fallen. If this technology detects a fall, followed by no movement, it will notify the company’s monitoring center. The operators then attempt to contact you.
If you are unable to respond or press the Help Button yourself, they can call emergency services for you and stay on the line until help arrives. This feature can be a literal lifesaver.
Wearable Medical Alert Devices
While home medical alert systems often require you to go to a centrally located base station to request help, mobile medical alert systems are defined by the fact that they are as active as you are. They work when you’re in the garden, out shopping, or even on vacation.
Wearable medical alert devices connect to your home system’s base unit or use cellular service to connect directly to the provider’s monitoring center. They are designed to be light and unobtrusive and come in a variety of forms. They can be worn around the neck like a pendant or necklace, on your wrist like a watch, or clipped to a belt or purse. Some providers even offer “designer” wearable devices in the form of fashionable jewelry.
Most of these devices are water resistant, so you can wear them in the shower. Some are built into smartwatches that can also be used to access other health- and safety-related applications. Whatever their shape or size, these wearable devices can offer you greater peace of mind, because you know that you’re always able to summon help no matter where you are.
Medical Alert Systems for Seniors
It’s not just the danger of falls that makes medical alert devices a good idea for seniors. On a practical level, if you or your loved ones are over 65, having an emergency button within easy reach when home alone—or, even better, having a wearable device on your wrist or around your neck no matter where you are—offers a very real improvement in personal safety.
In addition, sometimes it is important just to be able to talk to someone in non-emergency situations, like being locked out of the house or finding yourself lost and unable to find the way home. That’s why many systems include the ability to easily call their monitoring center simply for assistance, regardless of whether the situation is an actual emergency.
Knowing that help is only a button push or a voice command away offers you and your loved ones valuable peace of mind. Medical alert systems can help your loved ones to stop worrying and actually enjoy their golden years, because they will know that in an emergency, there will be a friendly, well-trained voice on the other end of the line to help. Typically the monitoring teams will even already have your loved one’s medical history in front of them.
Medical Alert System Features
Here are some important features that you should be considering if you’re choosing a home medical alert system.
One of the most important things to consider is the quality of a medical alert system’s monitoring services. Are the company’s operators available to you 24/7/365? How are their operators trained, and are they certified by industry-standard organizations such as the SIA (Security Industry Authority) or the CSA Group? Can your loved on call them for help with everyday situations such as being locked out of the house, or only in emergency situations? Can you actually talk with the operators after pressing the help button, or do they just call 911 for you?
Many monitoring centers employ operators who are fluent in the most commonly spoken languages and have access to translation services for those languages they don’t speak. Check to make sure your emergency help comes in the language you or your loved ones speak most easily.
You may want to check where the company’s monitoring centers are located. Are they in the USA, or in another country, where you might have to worry whether the operators speak the language you’re most comfortable with?
Landline or Cellular Connection
For home-based systems, base units are commonly connected to the monitoring center by either plugging into your regular phone landline or using mobile cellular service. For systems that include wearable devices, check which cellular service they’ll use to connect in an emergency.
Many companies utilize only one cell network provider for their devices, so check to make sure that the areas where you live and/or commonly travel to are covered by that cell network provider.
GPS Location Tracking
An important feature to look for in a wearable device is support for GPS (global positioning system) tracking. In an emergency, this feature allows the monitoring center operators to know exactly where you or your loved one is so they can direct emergency services or caregivers to their exact location as quickly as possible.
On top of emergency services, some wearable devices—especially smartwatches—can help you stay healthy by tracking your daily activity levels. They can track and record things like the number of steps you take a day, your heart rate or blood oxygen levels, and even the quality of your sleep.
These metrics can help you maintain your own exercise program and can also be a comfort to caregivers, who can monitor their loved ones’ activity levels or be notified if they are inactive for a longer-than-normal period.
Additional Help Buttons Around the Home
One of the most popular options for home-based medical alert systems is additional Help Buttons that can be mounted on the wall or placed in easily-reachable locations in areas where accidents often occur, such as bathrooms or staircases. If you slip on the stairs or need to call for help while in the shower, these extra buttons will be within reach.
The wearable devices that come with medical alert systems may be as simple as a help button or as complex as a smartwatch, but one thing is certain—they only work if you’re wearing them. So you should check to make sure they are water-resistant and you can continue to wear them while taking a shower or a bath.
Most medical alert systems allow you to speak with the operators in the company’s monitoring center so that they can stay in contact with you until help arrives or the situation is resolved. However, not all systems include two-way communication, so be sure to check.
Some medical alert companies also allow you or your loved ones to speak with caregivers directly through your wearable device. Typically these systems assign a phone number to the device so that caregivers can reach loved ones just by dialing the number using their own phone.
Medication Reminders and/or Dispensers
Older adults often have difficulties remembering to take their prescribed medications or remembering to take them on the proper schedule. So some medical alert companies offer the ability to set up an audible and visual alert when it’s time to take your medications. Some companies even offer automatic medication dispensers that can be preset to provide the correct dosage at the correct time.
Caregiver Web Portal or Mobile App
Many medical alert companies offer a mobile app or a web portal where caregivers can keep in touch with you or your loved one via their own smartphones or computers. These services allow you to receive information about how often your loved ones have called for help, their activity and location data, and more. These portals help you to take an active part in your loved ones’ well-being and work with them to ensure their health and safety.
Insurance Coverage of Medical Alert Systems
One question that many prospective users of medical alert systems ask is, “Will my health insurance pay for a medical alert device?” Unfortunately, the majority of private health insurance providers do not cover the cost of medical alert devices. The same is true of Medicare.
But some insurance providers do cover such devices. Also, some beneficiaries of Medicaid can qualify for assistance under the Money Follows the Person program, which covers the cost of medically necessary devices. This program is designed to help seniors transition from nursing home facilities back into living in their own homes, so check with your provider to see if you qualify.
Medical Alert System Contracts - Warranties and Policies
One of the most important things to check when considering medical alert products and services is whether the provider requires a contract. Some simply require month-to-month plans that you can cancel at any time. However, many companies do require long-term contracts, and the cancellation charges to exit from such contracts can be considerable.
Similarly, wearable devices can occasionally break, so you should check whether the company and system you are interested in offers a warranty on their devices. Will they replace lost or damaged equipment, or will you have to pay equipment fees for a replacement? Many companies enable you to take out insurance on their devices to cover such eventualities.
What Should I Look for in a Medical Alert System?
With all of the options available, it can be difficult to find the right choice for you or your loved ones. The best medical alert system for one person may not be the best for another, which is why it’s important to consider the health, capabilities, lifestyle, and habits of the person it’s intended for. That way, you can make sure that the features of a particular device are best suited for the needs of your loved one.
One universally important detail is support. No matter what your other needs are, you want to make sure that the medical alert system you choose has a reliable, on-the-spot call center. The best medical alert systems will have reputable monitoring services with short response times and 24/7 availability. Though not a necessity, a US-based call center is ideal and definitely a feature to look out for.
From there, the features you’ll want to look for should align with the needs of the wearer. If the wearer is active and plans to spend time outside of the home, it’s best to consider a medical alert device with a long range and GPS tracking that can instantly and accurately inform response teams of their location. If the wearer is advanced in age or has mobility issues, fall detection technology is a critical component that will ensure your loved one receives help in the event that they’re unable to activate the alert themselves.
Wearability is another factor. The best medical alert devices are lightweight and non-intrusive. Since everybody wants to look their best, you also want to consider the appearance of the device you’re considering. Today, medical alert devices are made to blend in with or even enhance one’s appearance. With sleek designs, sophisticated detail, and sharp features, many of the best medical alert devices can pass for jewelry or an accessory.