Choosing the Best Medical Alert Systems

If you or a loved one live alone or are left alone for long periods of time during the day, it could take hours if not days for someone to find you in the event of a fall and according to the CDC, 3 million older adults are treated in ERs for fall injuries and 800,000 of those injuries result in hospitalization. If you suffer an injury that prevents you from reaching a phone, then you may need to wait a long time before someone comes to your door or figures out that something is wrong.

Emergency rescues can save lives if they occur fast enough, but too many elderly or disabled people suffer debilitating injuries or even death because they weren’t rescued in a timely manner. Many older adults rely on medical alert systems as a solution because they empower users to seek help immediately regardless of where they fall or what hour of the day an injury occurs. These systems extend the period of time that many elderly people are able to live alone, and they deliver tremendous peace of mind for loved ones.

What are Medical Alert Systems?

Any system that allows a person to quickly call for help in the case of an emergency can qualify as a medical alert system. These systems are sometimes referred to as emergency alert systems, but the idea is the same. If you fall and are unable to get up or you suffer an injury or medical emergency that limits your mobility, you can press a button on a wearable device to ask for help.

Each system will function in its own way, but the process typically looks something like this:

  1. The protected person wears a necklace, watch or other device while at home. Keeping it on the body is essential because you never know where you will be when an emergency strikes, and there’s no guarantee that you will make it to a stationary unit. The ability to instantly push the button even with restricted movement is critical.
  2. An emergency, fall or injury occurs, and the protected person activates an alarm to summon medical authorities which will respond in 8-14 minutes. This is usually as simple as hitting a button, which is often bright red and large enough to easily press even if in a compromising position or with bad eyesight. You won’t hear an alarm inside your home, but rest assured that it is activated through your telephone wires to a call or monitoring center.
  3. The alarm alerts the attention of a live monitor or automatically triggers a call to 911 for assistance. The most functional and effective systems operate with live monitors available around the clock, and they will speak to the endangered person directly through a speaker that allows two-way communication. The monitor can determine the emergency and provide comfort or reassurance while contacting the appropriate authorities for fast response.
  4. Emergency medical services respond to the protected person’s address. Since you register with the medical alert system, they know the address and give it to emergency responders on your behalf. This speeds up the emergency response process, ensuring that you or your loved one receive prompt assistance.

Think of a medical alert system as a loved one who is always on standby. If you ever need help, you hit a button and wait for their response.

Do You Need a Medical Alert System?

Consumers invest in medical alert systems for a variety of reasons. You may consider this option beneficial if any of the following apply to your current or future circumstances:

  • You or someone you love is an elderly, sick or disabled person who wishes to live alone. You can stay in your home for a longer period of time when you maximize safety through a medical alert system that offers around-the-clock monitoring and real-time responses.
  • You can’t always stay home with an elderly, sick or disabled person who lives in your home. You can enjoy your life with peace of mind, knowing that your loved one is well protected by fast emergency response if something happens in your absence.
  • You or someone in your home suffers from a medical condition that may require immediate assistance at an unexpected time. This refers to people who are high risk for heart attacks, strokes, seizures and other emergencies that require fast medical intervention. Even if loved ones are home when the emergency occurs, it’s faster to hit a button and connect to someone who already knows your location than it is to dial 911, wait for an answer and then report your location and the circumstances.
  • An elderly, sick or disabled person in your life is anxious about staying home alone for any length of time. Having a medical alert device can reduce anxiety and help improve quality of life for everyone involved.
  • You or someone you love is recovering from a surgery or other medical procedure. You never know when a complication will arise, and it may give everyone peace of mind to know that help is always one press of a button away.
  • You or a loved one is active outside of the house but still requires constant access to an emergency response device. GPS technology and cellular towers are now allowing seniors and others in need of supervision more freedom to enjoy active lives beyond the home.

There are other reasons that you may invest in a medical alert system, but it always comes down to enhancing protection in preparation of emergency situations. If you and your loved ones could use the reassurance and peace of mind that come with easy access to medical assistance, emergency monitoring is something to consider.

Types of Medical Alert Systems

There are different types of medical alert systems available today, and new innovations are likely to come in the future as technology develops. The most common options include:

Types of Medical Alert Systems
Type of Device Description
Cell Phones with Medical Alert We’re talking about cell phones that contain a medical alert button, so this isn’t a wearable alert system. Since you need to have the phone within easy reach, it’s not ideal for many people who are at high risk for emergencies that restrict movement.
Mobile GPS Medical Alert Systems This is the ideal option for those who want to remain active outside of the home without losing the protection of a medical monitoring system. It connects with cellular towers just like smartphones and uses GPS to pinpoint the exact location of the emergency. This is different from basic pendant or speaker phone systems that require access to a home phone line or Wi-Fi system for internet access.
Pendant Medical Alert Systems Pendants look similar to key fobs for modern cars, but the buttons connect to a call or monitoring center rather than unlocking the doors of your vehicle. Some pendants may alert authorities that you need assistance while others connect with base units in your home that contain two-way speakers for direct contact with live monitoring personnel.
Speaker Phone Medical Alert System This is a wearable pendant with a built-in speaker. You eliminate the base station with this model, but the quality of the speaker isn’t always equal to that of a larger base speaker. You may still need a Wi-Fi connection, so these aren’t always suitable for protection outside of the home.
Tracking Smart Watches Think of a smart watch that includes GPS tracking and an emergency alert button. This is an advanced system that will work in or out of the home, and it can detect your activity level, heart rate and other medical stats around the clock. This is another option for more active people who require direct access to medical response teams in the event of an emergency.

Medical Alert System Features to Consider

Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of medical alert systems available today, it’s time to learn about the features that you may see on those devices. Start by identifying which features you definitely need as well as which ones you would like to have. This will help you narrow down your options to find medical alert systems that meet your personal needs.

Features to Consider
Feature Description
Waterproof Materials This refers mostly to pendants, watches and other wearable medical alert systems. A lot of falls occur in the shower, and you never know when an emergency may strike while you’re swimming or relaxing in the bathtub. If the wearer spends any amount of time in water, a waterproof wearable is ideal.
Range If your system includes a pendant that connects to a stationary base unit, the range refers to how far from the base unit you can move without losing the connection. This is most often a problem for people who live in large homes. The range may impact the placement of your base station.
Connectivity Will your pendant, watch, bracelet or other wearable device connect to cell towers, GPS systems, Wi-Fi or a phone landline? Understanding the connectivity is essential to ensure your wearable device is always connected to the monitoring system.
Portability Is a home-based system suitable, or will you require a mobile system that allows you to venture away from home? If you travel, is it easy to take the medical alert system with you? Are you tied to a local network within your city or state? Or does your system provide nationwide coverage?
Battery Life This refers to the amount of time that you can expect to use your portable or wearable device before it needs a charge or battery replacement. Most modern systems offer rechargeable devices, but you may need a charging cord. For active users, having a replacement charging cord is always a good idea. You can take one with you and leave one at home. The best systems will allow you to go at least a week without recharging.
Battery Backup This is essential for systems that require an electrical connection. If you lose electricity, you lose your system if there is no battery backup available. You should think about backup for systems that require an internet connection as well.
GPS Detection GPS medical alert systems allow emergency response teams to identify your exact location within or outside of your home. This is essential for medical emergencies that leave you unable to speak, especially when away from home.
Customer Service It’s important to consider the hours of operation for the customer service center. Doing a bit of research online or reading reviews will help you determine how responsive the customer service team is for a specific system. Consider technical assistance as well as basic service for billing, change of contact details and other issues.
Cyber Security As more medical alert systems are connected to the cloud, GPS, cell towers and Wi-Fi systems, the threat of someone hacking into the system and shutting the monitoring device down is a greater concern. Some advanced systems are now offering cyber security to protect against this and similar risks.

Monitoring & Response Options for Medical Alert Systems

It’s clear that medical alert systems notify emergency services that you need assistance, but what process will they use to carry out that job? It depends on which of the following monitoring and response methods is employed.

  • Live Response Center – Monitoring agents sit in a call center, waiting for medical alerts to activate. These live agents can communicate with you or your loved ones and make fast calls for emergency assistance. The best systems will provide 24/7 live monitoring, including coverage on weekends and holidays.
  • Call Routing – Calls for emergency assistance are routed to the 911 system or another emergency response system. This is how medical alert systems worked before live monitoring was introduced to the market, but many cities and small towns no longer allow basic call routing without a live representative on the line. In some areas, routed emergency calls without a live representative aren’t given priority, so it could take longer for you to receive assistance.

What Will a Medical Alert System Cost?

When you choose a medical alert system, the company will generally charge a monthly fee, and many systems offer live coverage, sensors that can detect falls, devices that may feature a GPS, call centers that contain helpful representatives, additional devices and waterproof buttons. Some devices have batteries that will remain operational for more than 10 years, and many businesses also offer backups that could temporarily charge the batteries if the devices lose electricity. If an individual experiences an emergency, the helpful experts can coordinate the emergency response and describe the situation. Each business will create a contract that effectively outlines each charge, and a customer may choose extra buttons, add additional users, receive various discounts and select advanced services.

Examining the Fees

Once you buy a standard system that Life Alert provides, the services will generally have a monthly cost of $49.95, yet when you select the company’s most advanced devices, Life Alert generally charges $89.95 during each month. The well-known business has indicated that more than 15 percent of customers choose yearly contracts. The company generally charges an initial fee of $95 when a customer signs up for a standard plan, but if an individual selects more advanced services, the plan could have a one-time fee of $198.

Generally, LifeStation is able to customize a plan with a monthly cost of $29.95, but once a customer chooses quarterly services, LifeStation will only charge $27.95. If you sign a contract that is active for one year, the same services will have a monthly cost of $25.95. Currently, the company is offering free equipment and free activation. Once you choose the services that meet your needs, LifeStation will deliver the devices for free.

Bay Alarm Medical can offer services that feature a monthly price of $19.95; however, the company has created an advanced plan that has a cost of $69.95. When you buy a new system, the business usually charges a one-time fee of less than $100.

Studying Various Contracts

Life Alert offers devices that may be linked to a landline and a mobile device, yet customers can also choose a system that does not need a landline. This device features a waterproof button, and according to Life Alert, the durable button can save many lives because more than 80 percent of in-home accidents occur in bathrooms. After you choose an in-home system, Life Alert will connect you to the company’s helpful representative if you experience an emergency. Once you subscribe to the company’s mobile services, the experts can utilize a GPS that will determine your location when an emergency occurs.

Currently, LifeStation has created devices that feature cutting-edge sensors, which can effectively detect falls. When an individual experiences a fall, the device will immediately notify the company’s experts, and the specialists may ask numerous questions and contact first responders. Generally, a customer could add a user for $3.99 per month, and if a member selects an extra button, the monthly costs will only increase by $2.49.

If you choose the services that Bay Alarm Medical offers, you can add a family member for free, and you may select a sensor that could be installed in a vehicle. The business also sells numerous devices that feature sensors, and various reports have indicated that the components can substantially enhance a medical team’s response time.

Examining Numerous Discounts and Guarantees

Sometimes, Life Alert offers deals that reduce the initial fee, and the business provides a lifetime guarantee that ensures the functionality of the company’s durable equipment. Numerous reviews have indicated that the equipment may function for more than 18 years before the company replaces the batteries.

During the last five years, LifeStation has created numerous discounts that can decrease the monthly price by $3. If an individual is a senior citizen, the business could provide an additional device for free. The company guarantees a customer’s satisfaction, and the business can offer a full refund within 30 days of a system’s activation.

If you choose the services that Bay Alarm Medical can offer, the company will sometimes reduce a system’s monthly cost by $9.95. Moreover, the business could significantly decrease its one-time fee if a customer selects certain services. Generally, the company is able to offer full refunds within 30 days.

Buying a Medical Alert System and Selecting an Insurance Policy

Various reports have indicated that a medical alert system can tremendously reduce numerous types of complications that are associated with some medical events. Generally, the devices may reduce stress, help caretakers and optimize the effectiveness of emergency services. Consequently, some insurance companies will reimburse customers who have chosen cutting-edge devices; however, many insurers do not cover the costs of the systems. Once a customer selects a medical alert system, the individual should contact an insurance company and examine the available coverage.

The Benefits of Medicare Advantage

If you have insurance that Medicare offers, many of the insurance plans will not cover the costs of medical alert systems, yet according to various reviews, certain plans may reimburse individuals who buy medical alert systems. Numerous reports have indicated that many customers are encouraging the managers of Medicare to cover the costs of certain medical alert systems.

Monthly Cost Comparison
System Life Alert Medical Guardian MobileHelp Classic Life Station Bay Alarm Medical Alert Systems
In-home landline services $50 $30 N/A $26 $20
In-home cellular services $50 $35 $30 $33 $35
GPS tracking option $20 $40 $38 $36 $30
Fall Detection N/A $10 $10 $7 $10
Activation Fee $0-$95 $0 $0 $0 $0

What Will Insurance Pay? What About Tax Deductions?

Medicare Part B doesn’t cover any type of medical alert system. If you have a Medicare Advantage or supplemental policy, then you may have some level of coverage. In that case, you will need to contact your insurance provider to determine the coverage details. Some private healthcare plans may include coverage, and you may have the option to pay with a health savings account. Check with your plan for details.

While there are no tax deductions specifically for medical alert systems, there are some loopholes that some people exploit. You will need to itemize your deductions for this to work, and it’s best to work with an experienced accountant or tax processor to ensure that you’re qualified for the deduction.

Top-Rated Medical Alert Companies

  • Bay Alarm Medical – Cellular and landline-based alert systems are offered along with GPS tracking options. There are no activation or cancellation fees, and service is available in more than 100 languages.
  • Life Alert – This is one of the most recognizable providers, and they now allow you to select from cellular or landline-based systems. Battery life is up to 10 years even for mobile devices, and you can select from a variety of plans.
  • LifeStation – This is a good option if you don’t want to sign a contract or pay an activation or cancellation fee. Cellular and landline systems are offered, and you can add fall detection coverage for an added fee.