Features to Consider
With so many different types of medical alert systems on the market, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different features that one may offer. This will help guide you to find the best medical alert system to suit your needs and lifestyle.
Comparison of the Best Medical Alert Systems
Medical Guardian Classic Guardian and Home 2.0
LifeFone At Home Medical Alert
Bay Alarm In Home Medical Alert
MobileHelp Classic, Wired Home and Touch Classic
AloeCare Health Essentials
HandsFree Health – WellBe Smart Speaker
LifeStation At Home Medical Alert
Classic Guardian –29.95/mo
Home 2.0 –34.95/mo
29.95/mo with landline connection
34.95/mo with cellular connection
19.95 with landline connection
29.95/mo with cellular connection
MobileHelp Classic –19.95/mo
Wired Home –24.95/mo
Touch Classic –54.95/mo
|29.99/mo||Emergency response service not offered with speaker (It is offered with other HandsFree Health systems)||
32.95 with cellular connection
|Equipment Price||$99.95 with Home 2.0||None||None||None||$149.99||$189||None|
|Two Way Talk
(Through the base station)
|Optional Fall Detection||With the Home 2.0 only – $10/mo||$5/mo||$10/mo||$10/mo||Wall mounted fall detection sensor available||No||$5/mo|
|Additional Features||Voice assist button on Home 2.0, optional location detection for caregivers||Room temperature sensor, optional medication reminders on cellular system, optional jewelry pendant||Can set up geofencing to know when loved ones leave a specified area, optional jewelry pendants and waterproof wall buttons||Optional activity tracking and medication reminders on Touch Classic,
optional waterproof wall button and telehealth service on MobileHelp Classic and Wired Home
|Voice activation, motion, temperature, and air quality sensors included, Bluetooth connectivity||Includes curated health database (similar to Alexa), medication and appointment reminders, Bluetooth connectivity||Extra features for those with hearing and vision impairment, optional caregiver location tracking and Uber transportation service|
(Radius from the base station)
Classic Guardian – 1,300 ft.
Home 2.0 – 1,400 ft.
|1,300 ft||1,000 feet||
MobileHelp Classic – 1,400 ft.
Wired Home – 600 ft.
Touch Classic – N/A
600 ft. with cellular connection
Choosing the Best Medical Alert System to Protect Yourself or Your Loved One
There are many reasons people buy medical alert systems and not all of those reasons are because of age. A medical alert device could be used to monitor an aging loved one, but it could also be used by a person of any age who is living with a disability, or perhaps a person who has some other type of medical issue such as diabetes or asthma that could cause them at some point to need immediate medical assistance.
Medical alert systems are also purchased by people who don’t have any immediate medical need but instead have some type of medical issue in their family history that could potentially affect them at any given moment, like heart disease or stroke.
FYI: Did you know that Bluetooth is a common technology used in medical alert devices? Learn more in our guide to the best mobile medical alert devices that use Bluetooth.
What Are Medical Alert Systems?
A medical alert system is an alarm system that will detect an incident or hazard and send a signal to a monitoring center or designated person to summon emergency medical help. Further, medical alert systems with fall detection are capable of detecting a fall and providing emergency assistance, even if the user is unable to communicate with a monitoring center associate. Systems offer various other advanced functions, to enhance safety both at home and while away. We will discuss all of these features ahead.
Medical Alert System Companies
The following is a list of popular medical alert system companies:
Types of Medical Alert Devices
Medical alert systems come in both at-home and on-the-go varieties. Both are explained below.
In-Home Medical Alert Devices
In-home medical alert devices help people live alone longer. A medical alert provides older adults with a lifeline to immediate assistance. The alternative is waiting until someone checks in, which in some cases could take days or even weeks.
Most in-home medical alert devices come with either a wired or wireless option. Systems that use a landline connection are typically less expensive than those that use a cellular connection. If you choose to go with a system that uses a cellular connection, know that you will use the provider’s cellular connection, not your own.
In-home medical alert systems include a base station along with a medical alert bracelet or pendant that communicates with a monitoring station through the base unit.
On-the-Go Medical Alert Devices
An on-the-go medical alert system uses the provider’s cellular connection and generally includes a mobile device, charger, and sometimes a help button. The mobile device is worn on a lanyard around the neck or attached with a belt clip. It might also come in the form of a smart watch.
Mobile medical alerts help keep active older adults protected. They can also be useful for those living with dementia who might wander or become lost while out.
Pro Tip: Pro Tip: Handsfree Health offers a sleek smartwatch called WellBe for seniors on the go. Visit our in-depth WellBe system review for the full scoop.
Medical Alert System Pricing
Generally, the costs associated with a medical alert system include a monthly monitoring fee, possible equipment fee, add-on costs, and hidden fees. Read on for an explanation of each.
Monthly fees are charged only on monitored systems. They cover the cost of staffing and operating at least two monitoring centers. This fee ranges from about $19 to $90 per month. However, most fall in the average range of $19 to $50 per month. Keep in mind that providers typically charge about $10 to $15 less for their at-home systems than their on-the-go systems.
Providers either rent or sell their equipment. If renting the equipment, the cost is wrapped into the monthly fee, and you will not be required to pay anything extra. If the provider is selling the equipment, you will need to pay this one-time cost upfront and will be able to keep the equipment even if you cancel your monthly subscription. Equipment fees usually run between $50 and $300.
Add-On Feature Costs
You can add a wide variety of services and accessories to your medical alert system. This includes fall detection, extra pendants or wristbands, a lockbox, a telehealth service, and more. These extras allow you to customize your system to fit your needs and lifestyle. Providers either charge a one-time cost or tack on a smaller additional cost to your monthly monitoring fee.
Hidden fees include activation, installation, processing, and membership fees. Only a minority of providers charge these fees. Also, sometimes the fee will be waived if you opt for a quarterly, semi-annual, or annual payment plan rather than the monthly plan. Because hidden fees are not advertised on providers’ websites, always inquire with customer service when checking out a system that you are interested in.
Medical Alert System Features
Medical alert systems have multiple features that you may not be aware of. When considering a medical alert device, be sure to compare features to ensure that you or your loved one receive the best fit possible.
Many (but not all) medical alert devices have a fall detection feature. This feature will automatically send an alert to the monitoring station or designated caregiver, so they can send help immediately. The fall detection alert is automatic; therefore, if the person who falls is knocked unconscious or is unable to communicate, an alert will still be sent. For many, this is one of the most important features to include with a medical alert device even if you have to pay more for it. Most providers charge $5 to $10 per month for this add on.
Pro Tip: Alert1 is one medical alert system with stellar fall detection that uses GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular signals to locate the user. Read our full review of the classic Alert1 system to learn more.
Range applies to at-home systems only, and refers to the maximum distance you can roam from the base unit with a help button. If you have an emergency and press your help button, the alert will travel through your base unit to the monitoring center. The range for most systems is between 200 and 1,400 feet. (Keep in mind that 1,400 feet is the length of three football fields.) Consider the size of your home and property when determining the range that you need.
With GPS, you’ll never be stranded if you become lost or disoriented. Fortunately, nearly all monitored on-the-go medical alert systems include GPS. These devices work just like any other medical alert device. When you need assistance, you simply press a button. Once a monitoring center agent receives the alert, they will also be able to pinpoint your location. With some systems, caregivers also have the ability to track a loved one’s location.
If English is not your primary language, know that you still have access to quick, competent emergency assistance. Many monitoring centers use a translation service that supports over 170 languages. One, Medical Care Alert, even staffs their centers with a Spanish-speaking associate, available 24/7.
Medical alert devices come with a two-way talk feature that allows you to speak with a monitoring center operator directly to convey an emergency need. With at-home systems two-way talk is typically found in the base unit. With on-the-go systems, two-way talk is available on the mobile device.
The last thing you want to worry about is your medical alert system not working because of a loss of power. At-home systems typically include a back-up battery, with up to 32 hours of life, so that you remain protected even during an adverse weather event.
Some medical device manufacturers offer special features that are included with their equipment. For example, some offer voice-activated help buttons for those with dexterity issues. Others offer Bluetooth connectivity, room temperature or activity monitoring, and other unique functions.
Medical Alert System Monitoring
Medical devices come in a wide variety of wearable options such as pendants that can be worn around your neck so they can be hidden by your shirt or blouse. They can also be worn on a belt, as a wristband, like a watch, and more.
Medical Device Monitoring
While shopping for a medical alert system, you will find both monitored and unmonitored systems. While the equipment may look similar, these systems function very differently.
With unmonitored medical alert systems, a help call will either go directly to 911 or to a predesignated friend, family member, or neighbor. The subscriber or caregiver typically sets up the calling protocol when purchasing the system. Unmonitored systems are basic systems, often not offering advanced features.
With monitored medical alert systems, when an emergency event occurs and the alarm is triggered, the device will contact a central monitoring center, staffed with trained professionals. These monitoring center associates assess the situation and the scale of severity, so they can respond quickly and accordingly. In addition, they use GPS to locate the person who needs assistance and pull up medical records when necessary.
Medical alert companies are required to provide redundancy by operating at least two centers so that coverage is never compromised if one goes down due to a power failure or severe weather event. One thing to look for is a TMA Five Diamond certification, the gold standard in monitoring.
Does Medicare Cover Medical Alert Systems?
You may be wondering if Medicare covers medical alert systems. This is a great question, and the short answer is – maybe. It all depends on which Medicare plan you have.
Medicare Parts A and B, sometimes referred to as Original Medicare, cover only necessary medical expenses. You will automatically be enrolled in Part A, the only part with no premium, when you enroll for Medicare. Part A covers things like inpatient hospital stays, home health care and skilled nursing care.
Part B is optional and coverage includes things like preventative and mental health care. Note that it also covers durable medical equipment, so many of us jump to the conclusion that this includes medical alert systems. Actually, it only includes what Medicare deems medically necessary like wheelchairs and walkers. Medical alert systems are not covered.
On to Part C. Part C is also known as Medicare Advantage and is an alternative to Original Medicare. It covers everything in Parts A & B plus it covers extra services like vision, hearing, and dental. Medicare Advantage is offered by private companies that are Medicare-approved and follow rules set up by Medicare. SOME Medicare Advantage plans MIGHT cover medical alert devices.
Part D covers prescription drugs, so we are skipping over to E, F, G… Medicare Supplemental Insurance, also called Medigap, helps offset costs from Parts A and B, like copays and deductibles. Ten different plans are available in most states. Each plan is a little bit different from the others and is labeled by a different letter. Like Medicare Advantage, some Medigap plans might cover medical alert devices.
In 2019, nearly 35% of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Advantage. Some of these seniors have medical alert system coverage or a discount, depending on their individual plan. In 2017, 35% of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in Medigap plans. (2019 statistics not available.) Some of these seniors have medical alert system coverage or a discount, depending on their individual plan. Many others, who have Original Medicare only, will need to pay out of pocket for medical alert devices.
FYI: See our guide to the most affordable medical alert systems if you want peace of mind without breaking the bank.
Is a Medical Alert System Tax Deductible?
Aahhh, tax time. Everyone’s favorite time of year. For some, this includes adding up all the medical expenses incurred during the previous year. The silver lining to medical expenses is a potential tax deduction. However, expenses need to be considerable in order to receive the deduction. You can only use the expenses as a deduction on Schedule A if your total medical and dental expenses exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
First, let’s go to IRS Publication 502. If you are like us and don’t have one lying around your house, it can be easily accessed online. In this publication, the IRS uses the following definition for medical expenses:
“Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and for the purpose of affecting any part or function of the body. These expenses include…. the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. Medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental disability or illness.”
So far it sounds like medical alert systems would fit within this description; after all, they do help prevent injury or disability.
The publication goes on to list those things that are medical expenses. It does not explicitly state that medical alert systems are considered a medical expense and therefore tax deductible. However, it does include a few items that could possibly encompass medical alert devices.
The first item on the list is capital expenses, defined as “special equipment installed in a home, or for improvements, if their main purpose is medical care for you, your spouse, or your dependent.” We might be going out on a limb here, but this includes “fire alarms, smoke detectors, and other warning systems.” Medical alert systems certainly are warning systems.
The second item is medical information plans. Publication 502 says, “You can include in medical expenses amounts paid to a plan that keeps medical information in a computer data bank and retrieves and furnishes the information upon request to an attending physician.” We’re not accountants, but this sounds a lot like a medical alert system.
So there you have it. The answer really couldn’t be more gray. Medical alert systems could qualify as medical expenses, but we think your best option is to consult an accountant.
Do Medical Alert Systems Interfere with Pacemakers?
A pacemaker is a small, implanted medical device that is used to treat life-threatening heart conditions such as arrhythmia. Pacemakers have been around since the late 1950s and have gone through many improvements over the years. These devices rarely fail, but when they do, it is due to battery depletion, loose or broken wiring, or electromagnetic interference from other devices.
It is this last cause that creates worry in some people who are considering the use of a medical alert device. It is magnetic components found in some devices that could cause interference. One way to avoid this interference is to wear the device more than six inches from the pacemaker. This could be done by wearing the device on a belt or wrist.
We decided to check the website of the American Heart Association to see what they had to say. The Association posts a list of devices that have been questioned as a cause of interference. For example, electric fences and electrical pet containment systems were cited as systems that can cause electromagnetic disruptions.
About medical alert systems, they had this to say: “It’s a good idea to contact customer support of your medical alert system provider to see if their product might pose a risk to your pacemaker or ICD.”
Another way to look at this is by considering the reasons an older adult has the pacemaker in the first place. A person whose heart condition is serious enough to warrant a pacemaker is the person for whom the medical alert system is designed. If a heart failure should occur, it is critical that immediate help is sent.
To be on the safe side, if we were shopping for a medical alert system for an older loved one with a pacemaker, we would take the Heart Association’s advice and contact the manufacturer. We also recommend speaking to your physician before investing in a system.
Common Questions About Medical Alert Systems
1. Are medical alert devices covered by Medicare/Medicaid?
In most cases, Medicare/Medicaid and insurance companies don’t cover the cost of medical alert systems. However, you should check with your particular insurance provider to see if you qualify for reimbursement of such items.
Are medical alert devices waterproof?
Most wearable help buttons are waterproof, meaning they can be used safely in a tub or shower. Most on-the-go medical alert devices are water resistant. They can be safely exposed to a shower or rain, but should not be submerged.
3. Are there any medical alert systems without monthly fees?
Yes, there are a wide variety of medical alert systems that don’t charge a monthly fee. These systems are unmonitored, so by avoiding a fee, you will also forego the layer of protection that a monitoring center provides.
4. Who buys medical alert devices?
Often, concerned family members purchase medical alert devices for their aging loved ones. Sometimes, an older adult will purchase one for themselves, especially when living alone, to enable them to age in place. Younger people living with disabilities or other health conditions also use medical alerts.
5. Can medical alert devices be used for people with Alzheimer’s?
Medical alert systems can support those living with Alzheimer’s disease (or other dementias) and their caregivers in several ways. For someone in the early stage of the disease, location detection in an on-the-go device is helpful if a person becomes lost while out. In addition, some at-home systems include Bluetooth connectivity which enables the system to connect with smart window and door sensors, alerting a caregiver to a person in a later stage of the disease who is about to wander. Finally, because those living with Alzheimer’s are at a greater risk of falling than the general population, fall detection is an important safety measure.
6. Are medical alert devices tax deductible?
IRS Publication 502 includes language indicating that medical alert systems could be considered a medical expense for tax purposes. However, your best bet is contacting an accountant for the best and most current information available.
Compare Medical Alert Systems
If you have done some of your own research into medical alert systems, you may have narrowed down your choices to a few companies. Next, take a look at our list of medical alert company comparisons to help you make the right decision for your needs.
Gain peace of mind and independence with a medical alert device. You can maintain your daily activities without fear of falling or suffering from a medical emergency that goes unnoticed. Assistance with any issue that may arise is just a button press away. Use our list above to find a medical alert device that best fits your own needs or those of an aging loved one.