Buyer’s Guide to Medical Alert Systems

What Are Medical Alert Systems?

Medical Alert Systems

Medical alert systems are a great way to improve the safety of vulnerable people and help give their caregivers and family members peace of mind.

There are many types of medical alert systems out there, but they all have the same end purpose: to alert the authorities or a caregiver in the event of an accident, such as a fall or a house fire.

And they all work in a fairly similar way, with the user either having to press a button or the system may include sensors that can detect when the user is in need of assistance.

Who Are They For?

These systems are typically used by aging adults and other vulnerable users who may need assistance in the event of an emergency. Some seniors may be hesitant to start using a medical alert system at first, but it is undoubtedly a good thing to have if you are looking for ways to improve the safety of vulnerable loved ones and to help give family members peace of mind.

How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

All of these different systems ultimately work by relaying a message from the user to either a designated family member, the local authorities (like the police or fire department), or the company’s own emergency care team, but different types of medical alert systems work in different ways – and some are much more sophisticated than others.

The most basic (and most affordable) systems consist of a landline telephone connection, a base unit and a portable help button which work together to notify the authorities, a designated family member or the company’s own dispatch center whenever an accident occurs.

These simple home-based systems are very easy to set up even if you have almost no technical expertise, and it’s always a good idea to perform a test after installation to make sure that everything is working as designed.

Other, more advanced systems, especially those which utilize censors and numerous buttons situated throughout the house, are much more complicated to install, so it’s usually best to pay a setup fee and have professional do it for you.

In addition to these home-based systems, there are also mobile alert systems that allow seniors and other vulnerable users to send an emergency message even when they’re on the go.

How Much Do Medical Alert Systems Cost?

The cost of a medical alert system varies substantially depending on the type of system you decide to purchase and the dedicated medical alert system company you use.

For instance, a simple landline-based home based system usually costs between $20 and $35 per month, while cellular in-home systems cost up to $50 a month.

As for mobile medical alert system, you should expect to pay between $60 and $75 per month, and you may also be charged an upfront setup fee of up to $150 with some providers.

Keep in mind that if you buy an unmonitored system, you’ll typically only need to pay a one-off fee for the device and installation. On the other hand, if you buy a monitored system, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee depending on the type of system and plan you want (as outlined above.)

Do I Have to Commit to an Annual Plan?

No, most companies give users the option of purchasing their medical alert subscriptions on a rolling monthly basis.

However, some firms offer discount if you commit to a quarterly or annual plan. So, it’s advisable to start off on a rolling monthly basis, and, if you’re happy with the service, subsequently commit to a longer plan to save yourself some money.

Home Based Vs Mobile Systems

Many home-based systems are simply connected to your home’s landline and send out the emergency signal through that, while mobile systems work over cellular networks (just like your mobile phone) and even make use of GPS technology so your location can be pinpointed in the event of an emergency.

Depending on your needs and lifestyle, a home-based medical alert system may be all you need. However, if you want access to the system and able to send out an SOS message while on the go, a mobile system is likely to be a worthwhile investment for you.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your family to decide which system is best for you and if a mobile medical alerts system is worth the additional monthly cost.

How Effective is their Fall Detection Feature?

A number of providers’ systems have an automatic fall detection feature which can be incorporated for an extra ongoing fee. These systems aim to detect when you fall over within your property and then automatically communicate this to their dispatch center so help can be sent out to you.

The great advantage of this is it allows you to get help even if you have a particularly bad fall which you’re unable to get up from and can’t reach the nearest call button.

However, while this sounds like a very useful feature, the reality is these systems don’t always work as well as manufacturers claim, as it’s difficult to determine when someone has had a serious fall and the technology is still fairly new.

So, if you’re considering incorporating this feature into your medical alerts system and your monthly plan, you should be sure to read plenty of online reviews from people who have tried out the particular system you’re considering using so you can get a sense of how effective it is.

With regards to price, you can expect to pay an extra $10 to $15 per month for this feature.

Should I Go For A Monitored System?

As briefly discussed in this guide, there are two main types of medical alert systems: monitored and unmonitored.

Monitored systems provide users with access to the medical alert system’s company’s dispatch center, so they can receive help 24/7. However, these systems are considerably more expensive, as you have to pay a monthly fee to have access to this round the clock service.

On the other hand, an unmonitored system can only be linked to a designated family member, so they’re not an option if you don’t have someone who lives nearby and can provide support or assistance whenever required.

Most people tend to go for a monitored system, as it’s better to be safe than sorry and there are many plans which offer great value for money if you shop around.

However, if you aren’t particularly vulnerable and feel that a monitored system would be an unnecessary monthly expense, an unmonitored medical alert system may be perfect for you.

Finding the Best Medical Alert System For You

Given the fact, there are a few different types of medical alert systems out there, and numerous companies and individual plans to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to figure out what is best for you or for a loved one.

Our 5 step method, outlined below, should make the process much easier and more manageable for you.

1) Figure Out If You Need a Monitored System

The first thing you should do is decide if a monitored system is worth the additional monthly cost for you. You should consider how vulnerable you are and whether or not you have a nearby family member who can quickly help you out in the event of an emergency.

Even if you do have someone who you could link the system to, it’s often still worth purchasing a monitored system as it provides round the clock contact with an emergency dispatch center.

2) Decide If You Want a Mobile or In-Home System

Next, you should figure out if an in-home system is sufficient, or if you should instead go for a mobile system which can provide you with emergency assistance while outside your property.

Again, you should consider your individual circumstances, especially the state of your health, and determine if the additional cost of a mobile system is a worthwhile expense for you.

3) Decide Which Features You Want

You should then decide you want any additional features, such as a fall detection sensor. There are a few other features to choose from – and availability varies from company to company – but the same rule always applies: try to judge how much use it will be to you and if this justifies its cost.

4) Set a Budget

Now that you know the kind of medical alerts system you want (mobile or in-home and monitored or unmonitored) and have an idea of what features you’re after, you can start to gauge how much you’ll realistically need to pay each month.

Once you’ve received a few different quotes, you can set a budget to stick within and continue to shop around.

5) Browse Medical Alert Systems and Plans

Finally, you’ll just need to browse several systems and monthly plans to find one that’s within your budget and is suited to your individual needs.

If you’re struggling to find something within your budget, you should consider increasing it incrementally. Alternatively, you should reevaluate your must-have features and see if there’s anything you could do without.

Top Tips

Ensure Your System’s Base Has a Backup Battery

Medical alert systems are there to be used in the event of an emergency, so you want to make there’s nothing which might prevent your system from working as it should.

Flat batteries can sometimes be an issue, so it’s important to make sure that the base of your medical alert system has a backup battery fitted so it will still work even if the main battery goes flat.

Perform a Test

Whether you’ve installed your system by yourself or have enlisted the help of a professional, it’s always a good idea to conduct a test to make sure everything is working okay.

This literally takes a matter of seconds and it will provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind, so it really is a no-brainer.

Consult With the User Before Buying

If you’re buying a medical alert system on behalf of a loved one, you should always consult with the user before making a purchase. This way, you can discuss their preferences and see if they would be more comfortable with a monitored system, for example.

Ask If You Can Arrange a Daily Checkup Call

Some companies allow you to arrange a daily checkup call with an agent so they can make sure you are okay and even remind you to take your medication at a certain time.

Some firms will charge a fee for this service, while others will offer it for free as part of your monitored service subscription.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, a medical alerts system is one of the best things you can buy to help protect a vulnerable loved one and to give that person’s family peace of mind.

It’s important to spend plenty of time considering if a monitored or unmonitored system is best, and if a home based system is sufficient. You should be sure to discuss both of these points with the end user so they feel involved in the process and are comfortable moving forward.

It’s always a good idea to shop around as some providers are much more cost effective than others, so you can get considerably more bang for your buck if you spend a bit of time researching and considering all of your options.

A Quick Summary

  • Medical alert systems can be a great way to improve the safety of vulnerable people and help give their friends and family peace of mind.
  • There are many different types of systems out there, so it’s worth considering all of them to decide which is best for you.
  • For example, if want to make sure you have round-the-clock support in the event of an emergency, it’s best to go for a monitored system.
  • These packages are substantially more expensive, as you have to pay a monthly fee, but for many vulnerable users, they are well worth the additional cost.
  • You should also consider if a home-based system is sufficient or if you would benefit from going for a more expensive mobile system.
  • With regards to pricing, you might just need to make a one-off payment of a few hundred dollars if you’re going for a home-based, unmonitored system.
  • On the other hand, if you go for a mobile monitored system, you could end up paying over $80 per month (in addition to any setup fees you may be charged.) 
David Goldstein
David launched Boomer Buyer Guides with his wife Alice to provide Baby Boomers with trustworthy, well-researched information about products and services that Baby Boomers buy. Learn more about David Goldstein