Tips for a Wise Buyer
The idea of falling and being unable to stand seems impossible to the young, but it’s a terrifying possibility in day-to-day life for the motion impaired. As time takes its toll on the body, it’s important to find solutions for the problems that might arise. A proactive approach to falls and mobility issues is far easier and safer than a reactive one.
A recent study from the National Institute of Health shows periods of unpredictable isolation are a major antecedent to buying medical alert systems. In other words, consumers turning to medical alert systems to protect against the risk of falling unattended – especially if they or a loved one may be unexpectedly alone.
Falls are unexpected
A medical alert system can call for help with the touch of a button. Some systems don’t even require that step; built-in sensors will alert the monitoring station if a fall is detected. This is an important consideration in case the fall renders someone unconscious or unable to reach the device. Little is more important than peace of mind when caring for an elderly loved one—these systems make it easier than ever and provide an independence they might not have otherwise.
Landline vs Cellular
Whether your medical alert device connects to the monitoring station through a landline connection or a cellular connection is an important distinction. Landline systems require the wearer to stay relatively close to the base station: within 600 to 1,500 feet. A cellular system allows for a broader freedom of movement. The downside to a cellular connection is that if the wearer lives somewhere with spotty cell service, the device might not activate.
If you live in extremely rural areas, a landline connection is the best option. There is a third option where the medical alert system is built into an application, but we only mention it briefly so you know of its existence; we don’t recommend them, as it requires being able to unlock a phone and activate the app. After a fall, if disoriented, using smartphone menus complicates what should be a simple process.
Rent or Own
Be prepared for a return
Most medical alert systems aren’t owned; they’re rented. If you want to own the system you use, make sure the company will allow you to purchase it outright. Otherwise you can expect to return the medical alert system when it’s no longer needed.
You’ll want to make sure they system doesn’t get seriously damaged or boxed away. The replacement cost for a rented system can be more than $1000.
Buy on your terms
The Federal Trade Commission recently warned about scammers using computers to randomly dial (robocall) seniors, pushing medical alert devices. If you are being called by someone who aggresively pushes a product or service, hang up. Do not disclose your personal information, especially payment information over the phone. Instead, look for companies with good reputations, and that are a known quantity.
Our Search For The Best Medical Alert Systems
1. We searched for a comprehensive list of medical alert systems
2. We evaluated medical alert systems based on our expert guided buying criteria: Coverage area, connectivity & battery life
3. We brought you the best medical alert systems for consideration
Deciding what the best medical alert systems are was no easy task. We chose criteria that all companies needed to meet in order to be considered. Here’s how we broke it down:
1. Start with a comprehensive list of medical alert systems
We began our search with 11 well-known medical alert systems. Many of the top companies are mentioned numerous times on television, radio, and social media. These are the companies most likely to be used by consumers, so we started with them. Then we went a little deeper.
2. We removed companies that didn’t meet expert expectations
Deciding what the best medical alert systems are was no easy task. We chose criteria that all companies needed to meet in order to be considered. Here are the expert-guided criteria we used to scrutinize:
Many medical alert companies are regional or local. Shopping for a medical alert system is easier when you know service is available no matter where you are. If the system wasn’t available nationwide, we cut it from the list.
Home security companies like ADT sometimes provide medical alert capabilities as part of an overall home security package, but we only selected companies that worked on their own. The ability to live independently shouldn’t be dependent on a larger home security system. If a system couldn’t work on its own, it was cut.
Ease of Purchase
Some companies hide their prices behind walls of information and hidden fees. The companies we chose make it easy to purchase equipment both over the phone and online. Many of you reading this may prefer to purchase over the phone, but a large market for medical alert devices are younger people shopping for elderly parents. Ordering online should be just as easy as ordering over the phone. If we couldn’t easily identify how much a system was and get to the purchase screen, we cut it.
Commitment to Innovation
The medical alert technology market is growing with leaps and bounds, and it’s important for companies to be able to keep up. We kept a particular eye out for companies that offered both landline and cellular options, as well as automatic fall detection. We viewed these as a commitment to innovation, rather than offering inferior technology. If these options weren’t available in a medical system, we cut it from the list.
If a medical alert system has a short battery life, it’s more dangerous than being without one—the idea that the system works provides a false comfort. We made sure the systems we looked at had enough battery life to keep our loved ones safe and cut those that didn’t last at least 24 hours.
3. We put the best companies on your radar
We delivered the best options to put on your radar if you or a friend or family member is in need of a medical alert system.
Medical alert system reviews
After our evaluation, we selected four best medical alert systems: LifeStation, Medical Guardian, MobileHelp and Bay Alarm Medical. Each of these companies were good picks, and also stood out in a unique way.
LifeStation is one of the most experienced companies in the medical alert system business, and stands out for its commitment to offering affordable products and reliable service.
To make sure they are always standing by in case of an emergency, the company owns and operates two US-based monitoring centers. With their system, caretakers are able to perform a silent weekly test to be notified if the system has any issues. This gives users and their loved ones the peace of mind that their system is working.
We also like that LifeStation offers caregivers a complimentary alert messaging service that sends automatic email notifications in the event of an emergency.
Their most basic landline service is as low as $23.95/month, less than $1 per day. This is one of the lowest prices in the industry. LifeStation’s mobile compatible device with GPS is as low as $39.95/month. Again, this is extremely competitive for GPS enabled medical alert systems.
LifeStation may be the only medical alert company that offers a true 30-day money back guarantee. Other companies typically have 14 day trial periods or 30-day guarantees with annual payment plans only. In contrast, LifeStation offers a 30-day guarantee for any payment plan and any system type.
Medical Guardian Review
Best Response Time
Medical Guardian is committed to helping seniors age in place: “96% of Americans want to grow older in their own home.”
The company offers a variety of product levels, depending on the need. Four available product options are related to the key product decisions: cellular or landline connection, the range of the unit, and the length of the battery backup.
Medical Guardian provides the option to wear a pendant on the belt, around the neck, or on the wrist. The equipment is also waterproof, allowing your loved ones to wear the device while in the bath—after all, the bathroom is the most dangerous room of the home.
Critically, the area where Medical Guardian excelled most was in response times. Of the reported times we could find, Medical Guardian averaged less than a minute—roughly around 50 seconds. A fast response time is one of the most important qualities of a medical alert system; if a loved one falls, you want help to arrive as quickly as possible.
Prices start at $29.95 per month for the Classic Guardian unit and go as high as $49.95 per month for the Premium Guardian unit. While there is no trial period, Medical Guardian provides a 10-day return period during which you can get a refund. The company locks you into a minimum 90-day commitment, although if you prepay for longer and decide you no longer want to use the service after the 90 days are up, you can receive a refund for any remaining period.
We chose MobileHelp for their technology, makers of the first FDA registered mobile medical alert device. Many medical alert companies use MobileHelp manufactured equipment, and because the company produces its own equipment, it can easily stay on top of a rapidly changing and developing market.
They offer a variety of products, such as the MobileHelp Classic, which provides at-home protection only. The MobileHelp Solo provides a mobile device with built-in GPS that works whether you’re at home or on the go. Because the GPS is always running, the monitoring center will know where you are even if you can’t verbally inform them. The final option, MobileHelp Duo, combines the Classic and the Solo to provide both a neck pendant and a mobile device to track you when you leave home.
All of these devices are completely waterproof and compatible with the MobileHelp Fall Button, which includes automatic fall detection. There are no longer term contracts; MobileHelp allows you to cancel your service at any time by calling their customer service number, but you will be required to return all equipment unless it was purchased from a third party marketplace.
Prices start at $34.95 per month for the MobileHelp Classic, $37.95 per month for the MobileHelp Solo, and $41.95 per month for the MobileHelp Duo. Discounts are offered when you purchase quarterly, semi-annual, or annual plans.
A critical note, and one to pay attention to, is the lack of a landline option. The devices operate only through AT&T cellular service. If you live in an area where cellular service isn’t great, or somewhere that AT&T doesn’t operate, then MobileHelp may not be an option for you.
Bay Alarm Medical Review
Best Customer Service
Bay Alarm Medical is very customer oriented, immediately displaying their initial starting price of $27.95 per month, as well as a 30-day trial.
Bay Alarm Medical offers an in-home medical alert system from $27.95 per month and a mobile GPS help button, also for $27.95 per month. A bundle combining the two starts at $49.95 per month, while the automatic fall detection button is an additional $9.95 per month to any of these packages.
The area where Bay Alarm Medical truly excels is customer service. A direct quote from their website (and a highlighted review) states: “Customer care representatives spend time with each decision maker and user early in the process to ensure the customer is getting everything they need and that their loved ones are protected.”
The company has an almost perfect five-star rating after almost 2,800 reviews on ConsumerAffairs. Almost all of the reviews mention the friendliness of the customer service representatives and the reliability of the equipment. Many of the reviews mentioned customer representatives by name. In our experience, that’s a sign of a truly excellent experience.
The major downside to Bay Alarm Medical is that, once the 30-day trial is up, you cannot receive a refund for any of the unused months of your plan—not even prorated refunds. Make sure you’re willing to commit before your buy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do medical alert systems work?
If help is needed, whether the wearer falls or is simply unable to get up, all they have to do is press a button. In many cases, if a fall is detected and the operator is unable to reach the wearer, help will be sent automatically.
What kind of help do medical alert systems provide?
Most medical alert systems will contact the wearer if a fall is detected, and will often reach out to a family member. If the fall is serious enough, the monitoring station can contact an ambulance and have it sent to the home.
How much do medical alert systems cost?
These systems generally priced with monthly fees that range between $25-50 per month. The features you get will determine the price, according to this Harvard research study.
Can medical alert systems be helpful to those that don’t speak English?
The majority of monitoring stations have bilingual staff on hand. If a language is spoken that is not recognized, specialized numbers will be contacted that provide translations to more than 140 languages.
These systems provide a level of dignity that many other care options do not. Take the time to speak to your parents or grandparents about purchasing one of these devices. The conversation might be difficult, but it is necessary. Explain that you are worried for their safety and want to be sure they can get help if it is needed.
Of the three companies we examined, we most recommend Medical Guardian. Its options, customer service, and affordability make it the best all-around service for those looking for a medical alert system.