How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

Medical alert systems can be invaluable for anyone who needs a simple, reliable way to call for help, even if they’re unable to reach a phone. Also known as panic buttons or personal emergency response systems, monitored medical alert systems work by connecting users with a 24/7 call center staffed by highly trained emergency operators.

This guide provides an overview of how medical alert systems work, including in-home and mobile medical alert systems. We also explain several medical alert system features, such as automatic fall detection and GPS location tracking.

The Basics of a Medical Alert System

Medical alert systems consist of a wireless help button that’s linked to a transmitter, which is connected to either a landline phone or mobile phone service.

When a medical alert user activates their help button, the system triggers a call to the medical alert monitoring center. An emergency operator will answer the call and converse with the caller through a speakerphone to determine what kind of help is needed. Depending on the situation, the operator may dispatch a trusted neighbor, caregiver or first responders to assist the medical alert subscriber.

Most monitored medical alert companies will contact 9-1-1 if a help button has been activated, and the subscriber isn’t able to speak with the operator through the speakerphone.

There are two basic types of medical alert systems — those with a base station, and self-contained, all-in-one medical alert systems.

How In-Home Medical Alert Systems Work

Most in-home medical alert systems like the MobileHelp Classic include one or more small, lightweight wearable help buttons that are linked to a base unit. This base unit plugs into a standard household electrical outlet and contains a speakerphone, and it either connects with an existing landline phone or comes with an activated cellular SIM card.

For the system to work, users need to be within range of the base unit, much like how cordless phones work. The range between the medical alert base unit and the help buttons varies from 600-1,300 feet, depending on the device and where it’s used. In most cases, the battery in the in-home help button is designed to last for years and never needs recharging.

Since in-home medical alert base units have a high-powered speakerphone, users should be able to converse with the medical alert operator without being in the same room as the base unit.

How Mobile Medical Alert Systems Work

Mobile medical alert systems such as the GreatCall Lively Mobile link subscribers to the emergency monitoring center via mobile phone service. This means users can enjoy nationwide medical alert coverage in areas with good cellular phone signals.

Also called all-in-one medical alert systems, these wireless devices include a panic button, cellular transponder and speakerphone to enable two-way conversations with call monitoring operators.

Since mobile medical alert systems work off mobile phone networks, many mobile systems include GPS location tracking. This technology allows emergency operators and authorized caregivers to pinpoint the exact location of a medical alert user, a feature that can be valuable in an emergency. Some systems such as Philips Lifeline also use nearby Wi-Fi signals to increase location tracking accuracy.

Much like mobile phones, mobile medical alert buttons are powered with built-in batteries that need to be recharged daily on a charging cradle.

How Medical Alert Fall Detection Buttons Work

Seniors aged 65 and older are at an increased risk of falling, and falls are among the leading causes of injury and death among elders.

Many medical alert systems are now equipped with automatic fall detection. While this feature can’t prevent falls, it can ensure that help arrives quickly, even if the victim is unable to activate their medical alert button.

Help buttons with automatic fall detection are equipped with sensors that monitor speed and orientation. If a user suffers a sudden fall, these sensors trigger an automatic call to the medical alert monitoring center.