How to Choose a Medical Alert System
Living life to the fullest means letting go of your worries and enjoying every moment. But that’s not a practical thing for those of us with serious medical or injury worries, including senior citizens and those living with illness or disability, to do — at least, not without a little help. A medical alert system can be just the thing for this job. It can give us peace of mind and allow us to be comfortable in our own homes.
A medical alert system can connect you with the help that you need whenever you need it. With the press of a button (or, in the case of some advanced systems, the triggering of an automatic alert), medical help can be on its way to you in moments. That can make a major difference in health outcomes, giving you a better chance at continuing to enjoy a fulfilling life after a medical emergency — while also helping you to relax and rest easy every day and night.
But which medical alert system should you choose? Our tool above can help make this decision simple. Our medical alert system finder tool asks simple questions in order to find precise answers. It should be all that you need in order to find the best medical alert system — but if you want to learn more about what goes into the calculations, read on!
The Elements of a Medical Alert System
The point of a medical alert system is to speed up response times in the event of a medical emergency. Most medical alert systems make use of the same sorts of devices and services to accomplish this goal, but it’s worth taking a more in-depth look at those elements, especially as we prepare to differentiate between the offerings on the medical alert system market.
One of the two most basic features of a medical alert system (along with a communication/monitoring solution, which we’ll talk about next) is the button that you press in order to trigger the alert. There will often be one on the base unit that handles communication, but you’ll probably also want one to carry with you, which is why medical alert companies commonly put help buttons on things like a pendant on a cord that you can wear like a necklace, a wrist strap that you can wear like a watch, or a keychain attachment. These devices rely on battery power to work, but they often use charging stations (instead of requiring you to replace disposable batteries).
Communication and Monitoring
A help button is only useful if it gets you help, which is why medical alert systems are set up to connect you with help when you press your button. Usually, this means that agents are monitoring your system and will communicate with you when you press the help button so that they can then dispatch the proper help.
A Base Unit
So how do medical alert systems communicate with the agents that monitor them? Often, they do so through a main “base unit,” which connects to a communications network — usually a telephone landline. Typical features of a base unit include a help button and built-in microphones and speakers that will allow you to communicate with an agent when you’ve triggered an alert.
Smart Key Boxes
One device that is commonly available as an add-on feature is the smart key box, which keeps a key to your home outdoors (but well protected, of course). The box can be opened only by those with the keypad combination, and your medical alert system provider will have that combination — meaning that they can give it to first responders in the event of an emergency so that a locked door never separates you from the help that you need.
Smart Detection Systems and More
Most medical alert systems are designed such that you have to press a button to get help. That works for many situations, but what if you are in no condition to even activate the button? In such cases, it would help to have a smart device that pays attention to more than just a single button. And some medical alert systems do offer next-level technology! For instance, some devices incorporate smart wearables into their offerings, and others offer devices that can detect when the person wearing them falls — even if no button is pressed. While not necessarily typical, these sorts of devices and features are sometimes available. And they can be literal lifesavers!
What Differentiates Medical Alert Systems?
Now we know what makes a medical alert system…a medical alert system. But there are lots of such systems out there. If they all have the sorts of hardware devices and services that we listed above, then what’s the difference between them?
Mobile vs. At-Home Systems
The most significant difference that you’ll find between medical alert systems is how and where they work. Many medical alert systems use landlines to communicate: they have base units that plug into a telephone jack in your home, and that’s how they connect with representatives if you press your help button. These are powerful systems, but they’ll only work in your home, and only if you have a landline.
Other systems use cellular networks, just like your cell phone or smartphone does. These sorts of systems are becoming more common as landlines become less popular, and they’re useful even beyond the walls of your home. Of course, areas without cell service will also be dead zones for these sorts of systems, which is why you should consider your home’s cell reception before you make a decision.
Devices and Range
As we’ve discovered, pretty much all medical alert systems use remote controls with help buttons, and many have base units that connect to landlines or other communication networks. But how many devices and what kind of range they offer will vary. It’s important to take into account the size of your home; if you can trek to one side of your house and end up outside of the range of your base unit, then your help button won’t do much good!
The nature of the devices matters, too. As we discussed earlier, not all medical alert devices are created equal: some offer next-level technology like automatic fall detection.
Prices and Contracts
Even if all medical alert systems were the same (and, as we’ve seen, they’re not!), there would still be one thing left to consider about them: the price! Different providers offer their devices and their services at different prices. Generally, you’ll pay a monthly rate for monitoring coverage. In some (but not all) cases, you’ll get the actual equipment for free. You may be required to set up your system yourself, or you may get professional installation (which you might have to pay for, too).
In addition to varying prices, medical alert systems offer varying contract terms. Several of the best medical alert system options on the market require no commitment at all — with these systems, you’ll pay month by month and can cancel at any time. Other companies will lock you into a contract that can run for years and will penalize you if you cancel early. Be careful!
Tailoring Your Choice to Your Needs
Now that we know how medical alert systems work and how they differ from each other, we can see how important it is to choose the right system.
As you shop for your medical alert system, keep your specific needs in mind. Do you have a landline? Do you want your medical alert system to work outside of your home? How large is your house — will it take multiple devices to cover it fully? How much are you willing to pay, and how much of a commitment are you willing to make to one provider? Asking questions like this (and using our online resources and tools) will guide you to the right medical alert system.
Making Your Decision
With the information above, the reviews and tips you’ll find here on our site, and the tool that we’ve created to help you make your decision, you’re sure to find the right fit for you.