How to Choose the Best Medical Alert Systems
A Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide
Maybe you live alone, and you want the peace of mind that comes with having immediate access to emergency assistance. Or maybe you’re concerned about the safety of a loved one when you’re not around. Whatever your situation, a medical alert system can provide the added layer of security you’re seeking.
With most of these systems, a simple push of a button connects you with a trained emergency response operator who quickly identifies and dispatches the appropriate help—be it medical, fire or police.
These potentially life-saving systems can provide peace of mind for anyone but are especially helpful for older adults, those who live alone, those with health challenges and those at risk of falls or accidents.
But if you’re in the market for a medical alert system, it’s important to know that they aren’t all the same. In order to ensure that you choose the best medical alert system, here are some very important considerations you should be making.
Here are the top 10 questions you need to ask when shopping for a medical alert system:
1. What are the emergency help button options?
The best medical alert systems come with “wearable” devices—emergency help buttons that are integrated into everyday accessories like watches, bracelets and necklaces.
The benefit of being able to wear your help button? It’s hard to forget or lose, for one. Which means you’ll always have it on you when you need it. Plus, for those who prefer a more discreet look, disguising the button as a common accessory is an effective way to keep it under wraps.
When you’re shopping for your medical alert system, be sure to ask what wearable options are available. Are there wrist or neck options? Do they come in different colors? Sizes? Are there different styles to choose from?
Selecting a device that fits your lifestyle and personal style will help ensure that you keep it on you at all times.
2. Does the medical alert system work outside of my home?
Stationary medical alert systems provide emergency protection in your house, while mobile options enable coverage wherever you go.
If you spend most of your time in your residence, an at-home system is probably sufficient. But if you’re often out and about, a mobile system might better provide the support you need.
If you’re considering an at-home system, be sure to ask if it requires a landline connection. If you’re shopping for mobile systems, inquire if they come with GPS location tracking, which means emergency responders will be able to pinpoint your location in a matter of seconds.
3. What range does the medical alert device cover?
With most in-home systems, you can only be so far away from the base unit for the signal to work.
If you only intend to use your device in your house, there’s no need to invest in a system that covers a much wider radius. But if you’re an avid gardener who wants to make sure your coverage extends into your backyard, or if you like to go for walks around your neighborhood, you’ll want to be sure your device offers an extended range of coverage.
Before you invest in a medical alert system, think about where you spend your time and make sure the devices you are considering provide the coverage you’ll need.
4. Is the medical alert device waterproof?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 235,000 people over the age of 15 visit emergency rooms annually because of injuries incurred in the bathroom, and nearly 14 percent are hospitalized. The same source reports that more than a third of the injuries happen while bathing or showering. Bathroom falls are especially prevalent in the older population: According to NewsUSA, the National Institute on Aging reports that 80 percent of falls in the elderly happen in the bathroom.
This is particularly scary considering the fact that after a fall, many can’t get up to reach a phone and call for help. That’s why it’s especially important to have a medical alert help button that’s waterproof*—so you can keep your button on you in the most dangerous areas of your home.
5. Is there battery backup to protect against power outages?
This is an important yet often overlooked question you should absolutely ask when shopping for the best medical alert system.
Power outages are scary enough on their own. Losing electricity means you’re stuck in a dark house with no power, heat or charging ability. The last thing you need to worry about is not being able to access emergency assistance should you trip and fall in the dark or hear a strange noise upstairs.
Making sure your medical alert device has battery backup is a necessity.
6. Is fall detection available?
According to the CDC, one in four Americans aged 65 and older falls every year. The same source reports that falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
That’s why it’s so important to ask if a medical alert system comes with fall detection technology. With this potentially life-saving feature, a sensor will detect if you’re falling, and notify an emergency response operator—even if you are physically unable to push your button.
Other questions to ask about fall detection technology? If it requires an additional device if it will work in the shower, bath or pool, and if it’s an additional cost.
7. What level of emergency response support is available?
Emergencies don’t just happen between the hours of nine and five, which means you need dependable, round-the-clock monitoring, and 24/7 access to emergency responders in your area.
But that’s not all. Since emergencies can escalate fast, it’s crucial that the operator who responds to your call for help does so quickly and efficiently. An emergency response operator who can immediately identify the issue, and dispatch the appropriate responder, can make all the difference in a compromising situation. So when you’re shopping for a medical alert system, make sure you ask if the emergency operators have been expertly trained.
You may also want to ask if the centers are based in the U.S., and what languages the operators speak to ensure communication will be clear.
8. Is the emergency response monitoring center certified?
Make sure to ask if the company’s monitoring center has been certified by Underwriters Laboratories, a credible nonprofit that regularly conducts extensive safety and quality tests on medical alert devices.
And because buying the best product is only half the battle—you also want to ensure that the support you’ll receive is top-notch, consider also checking out the Better Business Bureau’s rating for the medical alert company. And don’t forget to visit Consumer Reports’ review section to get a sense of what customers are saying about the various medical alert system providers.
You may also want to ask if the medical alert system provider is a member of the Medical Alert Monitoring Association (MAMA), a professional trade association that advocates on behalf of legislation and regulations that enhance end-user safety.
9. Can I add emergency contacts to my medical alert system?
In addition to professional emergency personnel, some medical alert companies will contact a friend, family member or even a neighbor for you in the event of an emergency.
This ensures that your loved ones know what’s going on in real-time and gives them the option to check on you themselves in less severe situations.
10. How much does a medical alert system cost?
Of course, you’ll want to consider your budget when shopping for a medical alert system. Most companies offer a variety of packages ranging in features and price. Many offer discounts and sales throughout the year, so be sure to ask if there are any promotions running, or if there are any bundles that will save you money in the long run.