A potentially life-saving device that’s simple in design, but advanced in function
The tagline on Medical Care Alert’s home page says a lot: “Get independence for you, peace of mind for your family.”
It’s always nice to see a company focused on both older adults and their support circles. Medical Care Alert accomplishes this by offering a device with a simple design that seniors will likely feel comfortable wearing, along with a complementary app that offers caregivers multiple features to enhance security and well-being.
I know that many other factors play into your decision-making for this important purchase. Among them, functionality, affordability, and the company’s track record are probably top of mind.
So I spent several days living with Medical Care Alert’s Home & Away Ultra — wearing the device, making emergency test calls, and speaking with customer service agents. This was all in an effort to see how Medical Care Alert measured up against top alert systems like Medical Guardian or Bay Alarm Medical.
I’m sharing my findings with you in hopes that this will help you make the best possible decision when choosing a life-saving medical alert system for you or your loved one. Keep reading for my complete review of the Home & Away Ultra by Medical Care Alert.
FYI: It’s sometimes helpful to get the lay of the land before reading reviews for any given product. With this in mind, you may want to visit our Medical Alert Systems Buying Guide before continuing on.
Because the box measured 10 ½ inches x 10 ¼ inches, the size of the medical alert system surprised me. It consisted of only two pieces, the mobile device and the charging station (plus some paperwork). Big package, small system! That’s not to say that I don’t like small systems. They usually mean easier setup and fewer pieces to potentially lose.
The various labels within the package directed my attention to several important points. For example, before even pulling anything out of the box, my eyes were drawn to a large red message on the inside cover. It informed me that the Medical Care Alert website provides videos on setup. If you’re a visual learner like me, you’ll probably find these videos helpful. As a matter of fact, it was YouTube videos that helped me figure out how to refinish a piece of furniture just last weekend! The Medical Care Alert setup video helped, too.
In addition, a sticker covers one side of the mobile device warning customers that both the device and its charging station contain strong magnets. This is vital information for those with a pacemaker or defibrillator which could malfunction if coming in close proximity of magnets.
Did You Know: Magnetic fields can inhibit pulse generators on defibrillators and pacemakers. In an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), the magnet can even trigger a switch that prevents the ICD from transporting what can be lifesaving shocks.1 The American Heart Association recommends keeping magnets at least six inches from where a device is implanted. Don’t worry, a belt case can be purchased for an additional $9.99.
On the charger itself, a bright yellow sticker reminded me to “charge device daily.” I, for one, definitely needed those reminders!
Now that I had taken my first peek, I was ready to dig into the setup. But alas, I picked up the user guide, and realized I needed a magnifying glass! The font is extremely small, so it will likely be challenging for older eyes. Thankfully, a second Quick Start Guide provides essentially the same info, and this one is much easier to read. And let’s not forget about the aforementioned video.
The first step required me to plug in the charging port and place the device in it. The Ultra automatically powers on when doing so. The LED light turned a solid red, then the light turned green within 60 seconds, indicating that I had a Wi-Fi connection and adequate battery to make an emergency call. I also heard a voice prompt. Excellent! Voice prompts make setup and use easier, too. The voice prompt said, “Your device is now ready.”
However, it turns out that doesn’t mean 100 percent ready; it was not yet fully charged, so I left the device in the charger. This initial charge took about 30 minutes, which the instructions say is typical. And remember that Medical Care Alert recommends daily charging, which can take up to four hours.
FYI: Note that a full charge can last up to three days. Also, Medical Care Alert has incorporated a few warning signs for low battery. The LED light will blink red, and a voice prompt will alert you if you’re running low on juice.
If you’re very forgetful about charging devices or just want a longer battery life, take a look at our LifeFone review. The LifeFone (without fall detection) has a 30-day battery life, which, from what I’ve seen, is unmatched in the industry.
Next came testing the system. The Quick Start Guide provides a phone number to call. An automated system then provides a few prompts that ultimately helped me switch my Medical Care Alert system into test mode. I then pressed the help button and spoke to a monitoring center associate. By doing this, you’ll better understand how the system works in case of an emergency. (Note: The system automatically switches out of test mode after 15 minutes.)
And with that — I was up and running! It only took five to 10 minutes from start to finish.
FYI: To clean the Ultra, use mild dish soap with water. To sanitize it, use 70 percent isopropyl alcohol.
The Home & Away Ultra is white with a gray button, oval in shape, and about the length of a tube of chapstick. It weighs only 1.8 ounces, which is considered very light in the world of mobile medical alert devices. Since this system does not include a wearable at-home button, the size and weight of this device becomes very important for comfort reasons.
If owning a discreet device is a priority, then one that is small and light like the Medical Care Alert Home & Away Ultra is a good option. Another appealing option for seniors are smartwatches that serve as medical alert devices. For more information on these sleek and modern devices, read our guide to the Best Medical Alert Systems Worn as Watches.
Back to the Ultra — I actually really liked its simplicity. The speaker, microphone, and help button are the only visible features on it. It contains no unnecessary buttons. The gray button in the center serves as a means for contacting help during an emergency but is also used as an on/off button. To turn off, you simply press and release the button three times; to turn on quickly press and release once or place the device in its charger. The voice prompts help you along when you are performing any function.
Pro Tip: Medical Care Alert recommends always keeping the Ultra turned on. The one exception is if you are on a plane.
You also have the ability to cancel a call, which is something I really like to see. Not all medical alert devices include this function, but it’s important in case you change your mind or hit the button accidentally. Medical Care Alert doesn’t have an extra button for this function; instead, a voice prompt will simply direct you to press the gray button a second time.
Note that this device does not flash lights when it is being worn except in the case of a low battery. Flashing lights are a pet peeve of mine, so I was happy to see that Medical Care Alert doesn’t blink incessantly.
That said, one part of the device that is less than ideal is the lanyard. Medical Care Alert recommends wearing the device so that it rests on the upper torso. Wearing it in this position reduces swinging. Not only can a swinging device be annoying, it can also impede the fall detection sensors from working effectively. The lanyard is adjustable, but it does not adjust enough for people of shorter stature (that’s me!). So after fully adjusting the lanyard, the device still touched my stomach. Not a deal breaker, but something to be aware of.
Even though the Ultra has designed a device without flashing lights or extra buttons, that doesn’t mean that it skimped on important features. The device includes all of the functions that I have come to expect in a medical alert device. This includes two-way talk, location detection, and optional fall detection.
Location detection is accomplished through what the industry calls triangulation. This means that rather than using just GPS to locate a device, the monitoring center uses GPS, Wi-Fi, and a cellular connection.
As you probably already know, GPS works by receiving satellite and microwave signals which can be used to determine a location. While GPS can narrow the location to a small area, it can’t always provide an exact location.2 For this reason, Medical Care Alert uses triple location detection. This service helps pinpoint with greater accuracy the location of the senior wearing the Medical Care Alert device.
And similar to most mobile medical alert systems, fall detection is offered as an optional feature for an additional $10 monthly fee. I always recommend going with the fall detection upgrade, as falls are one of the biggest threats that seniors should prepare for.
Medical Care Alert advises that the Ultra with fall detection be worn on the chest for the best accuracy. It should never be carried in a purse or pocket. One thing to note is that with all fall detection systems, false alarms can and do occur, even if worn on the chest. Thankfully, one nice feature is the ability to cancel a false alert by pressing and holding down the Ultra’s help button for two seconds.
FYI: Medical Care Alert uses four sensors for fall detection: two accelerometers, a magnetometer, and a gyroscope. When these sensors detect a fall, the device gathers additional data for 10 seconds before sending it to a cloud-based system to analyze if it fits a fall pattern. If so, the response center is notified. This entire process takes 30-45 seconds.3
If fall detection is a priority for you, consider reading our overview of Best Medical Alert Devices with Fall Detection.
Staying safe and healthy often requires the assistance of family members or other caregivers. With this in mind, Medical Care Alert has incorporated several great features into its system through the use of its caregivers’ app, called “Remote Care 24/7.”
The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. However, before downloading the app, be sure to register as an emergency contact with your loved one’s Medical Care Alert system.
Location detection tops the list of the app’s beneficial features. This is different from location detection through the monitoring center mentioned earlier. Using the app, a caregiver can track a loved one directly. This feature can prove helpful in monitoring a number of medical conditions, including dementia.
The app also provides up to seven days of location history. When I first learned about this innovative feature, a part of me wondered if it could veer into some personal privacy issues. Then I realized ways that it could be advantageous. For example, if concerned that your loved one is suffering from loneliness or depression, you can check their location history to find out if they’ve been getting out of the house for some sun and socialization.
In addition to location detection, the app enables a caregiver to check the system’s battery and cellular strength and to keep track of important medical information such as prescriptions and doctors appointments. Finally, you can ring and locate the device from the app if your loved one misplaces it. By using this feature, you might help your mother find her alert system from several states away. Pretty neat!
Fun Fact: Speaking of finding misplaced items — I have heard of mobile devices turning up in strange places, but this one takes the cake. After losing his phone while on the beach playing with his dog, a resident of England was shocked when it was returned to him, after being discovered by a fisherman inside the stomach of a 25-pound cod!4
Another great system that provides top-notch assistance to caregivers is Aloe Care Health. You can read about their innovations including motion, temperature, and air-quality sensors in our latest Aloe Care Health review.
Medical Care Alert, a family-run business founded in 2012, operates two monitoring centers in New York and California. This redundancy is important in case the power goes down from severe weather or other incidents. Their operators receive a six-week training program that is certified by the Security Industry Association. Even more impressive, the operators are required to be EMT/EMD-certified. This increased my confidence in the system. In addition, a Spanish-speaking operator is always available. The monitoring centers provide support for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals, too.
So … how does Medical Care Alert perform under pressure?
In my trials, Medical Care Alert demonstrated a solid response time, which is the time it takes for a monitoring center associate to connect after pressing the emergency help button. During an actual emergency, response time is critical. The industry standard response time is 35 seconds on average. For Medical Care Alert, I recorded an average response time of 34 seconds. I also found the monitoring center associates to be polite and professional.
I recommend watching this short video of my live testing of Medical Care Alert to learn what to expect from the system:
At $39.95, the monthly fee for the Home & Away Ultra is in the ballpark of other similar systems. The system does not require any activation or equipment fees. But in most cases, it does require paying for shipping. For me, shipping cost $11.95.
Pro Tip: Medical Care Alert offers a reasonable monthly price, but if you’re looking for an even better bargain (and don’t mind a more bare-bones package), the Lively system might be a great call for you. You can read more about that popular alert system in our hands-on Lively review.
Medical Care Alert offers three other payment plans: quarterly, semiannual, and annual. Each of these options come with complimentary items, including free shipping.
When I reviewed this system, I couldn’t order the monthly payment plan online. I was only able to order by signing up for one of the lengthy payment plans. Since I wanted to pay monthly, I ended up ordering over the phone. The other thing to note with a monthly payment plan is that Medical Care Alert requires that payment information be kept on file and payment completed through autopay.
One extra fee to be aware of is a $50 reprogramming fee. This fee is charged if you order the system, change your mind, do not open or try the system, and send it back. When I asked customer service about this fee, my friendly agent informed me that each system is programmed specifically for an individual, so it covers the time/labor for reprogramming that unused system.
On the other hand, Medical Care Alert does offer a 14-day trial period. If you try the system and determine that it is not quite what you expected, you can send it back for a full refund with no extra charges. This seemed a bit inconsistent to me. I guess the lesson is, if you’re sending it back, be sure to test the system first!
Finally, if both you and your spouse (or any other family member) wish to both order the Home & Away Ultra, Medical Care Alert does offer a 10 percent discount on the second system.
If you’re interested in reading more about systems that provide the best bang for your buck, read our rundown of the Best Medical Alert Systems.
|Home System||Home & Away Ultra||Home & Away Duo||Home & Yard System|
|System Features||Base unit + buttons||All-in-one mobile device + caregiver’s app||Mobile device + button + caregiver’s app||2-way voice pendant + base unit|
|Price||$39.95 per month||$39.95 per month||$36.62 per month|
|Price Lock Guarantee||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|One Free Month||No||No||Yes|
Medical Care Alert offers a number of extras so that you can customize your system. Most of these items include a one-time cost.
Medical Guardian is another brand that offers numerous à la carte items. You may want to take a look at their wide selection of mobile devices and add-ons.
Striking a balance between design and functionality can be challenging in the medical alert device industry. Medical Care Alert seems to have found that balance.
It’s a feather in their cap that Medical Care Alert has designed a mobile device with all-important functions and weighs only 1.8 ounces. Most similar mobile devices weigh two ounces or more. In addition, I really like that many of the functions can be accomplished through only a single button with the assistance of voice prompts. It’s a simple, but efficient little device.
The added value to this system is the “Remote Care 24/7” app. The most common, and important, feature for caregivers is location detection. The app enables location detection, but doesn’t stop there. The multiple functions the app offers can take some burden from the shoulders of family members or other caregivers and provide peace of mind.
With all that said, just remember that the Medical Care Alert system does have a few quirks to it. The lanyard isn’t the greatest, and the reprogramming fee seems unnecessary. Also, I like it when companies make transactions easy on their customers. Since there’s no online option for ordering a monthly payment plan, Medical Care Alert fails to deliver in the ease-of-ordering category.
Thankfully, most of these drawbacks are relatively minor and have easy solutions. Overall, the Medical Care Alert Home & Away Ultra offers affordable protection with a solid response time in a discreet all-in-one device.
According to their website, Medical Care Alert includes a “100 percent lifetime replacement warranty” for all of their systems. This means that they will replace or repair any of their equipment that does not work properly due to normal wear and tear. Medical Care Alert offers an Extended Protection Plan (explained above) for equipment that is lost, stolen, or damaged.
Yes, this does occur with all fall detection systems. Sudden movement that appears like a fall can trigger the sensors. If this happens, follow the voice prompts to cancel the call, or simply tell the monitoring center associate that it is a false alarm.
Medical Care alert provides a price lock guarantee with all of its medical alert systems. This means that once you make your first payment, the monthly fee will never increase.
The device is water-resistant. It can be worn in the shower but should not be submerged in water.
No, cellular service is built into your plan. Medical Care Alert uses AT&T 4G LTE wireless cellular network.
Heart.org. (2021). Devices that May Interfere with ICDs and Pacemakers.
WebWatcher. (2019, July 15). How a GPS Cell Phone Tracker Works and What It Can Do.
Medical Care Alert. (2021). Fall Detection FAQ’s.
Cellania, Miss. (2010, April 27). Lost Cell Phones: 7 Strange Stories. Mental Floss.
After earning a degree in journalism, Jenny Wisniewski spent much of her professional life in education; however, she returned to writing in earnest in the senior care space, acting as caregiver to her mother. She has hand-tested the industry’s top medical alert systems, writing nearly 50 in-depth articles that help seniors age safely in place. Jenny also covers caregiving, Medicare, assisted living, memory care, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Previously, she’s written for national publications such as Country Magazine and Sierra Magazine. Jenny holds dual bachelor’s degrees in English/Journalism and Political Science from Miami University in Oxford, OH. She currently resides in Milwaukee, WI.