A Sleek and Innovative System Created by Health Professionals
HandsFree Health has taken medical alert systems to a new level. Not only do they offer safety and security, they also offer access to health and wellness information.
Their approach borrows from some popular mainstream technological gadgets already out there. In many ways, the WellBe Speaker looks and acts like Alexa, and the WellBe Watch looks and acts like an Apple watch. However, these are not knockoffs.
The WellBe system is designed specifically to help older adults manage and maintain their health through access to medical information. It simultaneously includes most (but not all) of those important safety features that I have come to know and expect in a medical alert system and that can save a life in the event of an emergency.
FYI: The WellBe Watch uses TMobile 4G LTE, and includes a built-in lithium battery. The WellBe Speaker requires a Wi-Fi connection. Both require a compatible smart phone (used by either the older adult or the caregiver) with an iOS or Android operating system.
The parents of this brainchild are healthcare executives with over 150 years of combined healthcare experience.1 Their WellBe brand is new to the market, with the speaker launching in July 2020, and the watch launching in October 2020.
Because it’s such a new system, does it have any wrinkles that need ironing out? And is such a technically advanced system practical for older adults? I wondered about both of these questions from the get-go. After thoroughly evaluating the WellBe Medical Alert Plus system over the course of several days, I will discuss both of these questions and much more in our full review just ahead.
I always recommend reading our Medical Alert Systems Buying Guide before plunging into specific reviews. It will give you an idea of what to look for as you shop for medical alert systems.
I was excited to dig into our new medical alert system. Basically, the system contains two pieces: the smart speaker and the smartwatch, each in its own self-contained box.
After opening each and setting them side by side on my kitchen table, I immediately knew that this was a system like no other. Absent were the medical-looking “boxes” hanging from lanyards, the help buttons, and the charging stations. Instead, what I saw looked sleek, sophisticated, techy and top-of-its class in design. Because this system had been forwarded to me for review sans payment, I had no idea of its cost when I began. “Cha-ching,” registered in my mind. (Don’t panic. Read on for pricing details.)
I also wondered what features this slick-looking system omitted since no system is perfect. From what I have seen through reviewing medical alert systems, typically when a system excels in one area, it may be lacking in another. It makes sense. No one system can be all things to all groups of people. So while the more generic-looking medical alert pieces mentioned above may not be the most stylish, many of them offer great safety features for older adults and caregivers. Would this be the case with the WellBe system? We would soon find out.
While the initial appearance of the product impressed me, my heart sank when I looked at the setup instructions. The WellBe system is definitely not a plug-in and go. It’s not that the amount of information in the Quick Start Guides was overwhelming — the Quick Start Guide for the watch is the size of a business card, and the one for the speaker is a very small pamphlet. However, the instructions are technical.
Setup requires first downloading the WellBe Virtual Assistant app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. You will need to set up an account and enter quite a bit of information, like health history and current medications. Of course, the amount of information that you provide is your decision, but the more you provide, the more advantageous the system. You are then required to follow a series of steps to pair the speaker and then the watch to your Wi-Fi system.
FYI: Wondering about the confidentiality of your information? The WellBe platform is HIPAA-compliant. This means that it meets a set of standards required for protecting health information that is held or transferred electronically, according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.2
Generally speaking, setting up the system was not that bad. It does take a little time though, and for the person who is not tech savvy or accustomed to working with smart devices, it could bring on a headache. If you are one of those people, I recommend asking a friend or family member to assist you with it.
If you like simple and no-fuss setup and functionality, I recommend Medical Alert. It is an uncomplicated system with a fast response time. And it only took me about three minutes to set up.
The smartwatch has so many fantastic features, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with putting it on. That’s easy enough. The black wristband itself is just shy of one inch, and is easy to take on and off. The band tucks under rather than over a loop, so you will not need to worry about it flapping around or getting caught on anything.
The watch itself has a large face (2 inches by 1.5 inches) and a crisp, high-resolution display. On the left side of the watch is the SIM card and the speaker, and on the right side is the on/off button and the crown button. It also has a heart rate sensor on the back.
The crown button is a protruding button with ridges around its circumference. I mention this because it is the button that you will use frequently, and also the button that you will need to find easily in the case of an emergency. I really like that HandsFree Health attended to these small details. The watch also includes two-way talk, so you will be able to talk with a trained response center associate.
Pro Tip: The watch’s battery life is around 24 hours. We recommend charging your watch at the same time every day, perhaps before bedtime. Charging time is short — only one hour.
To make an emergency call, the button should be pressed and held down for three seconds until an emergency call screen appears on the face. You will then have seven seconds to cancel the call by following the instructions on the screen. When the watch is not in emergency call mode, the crown button can be used to access an array of functions. Simply press and quickly release the button, and a “carousel” of icons will appear on the face of the watch.
“On the carousel, life is going well.” These Neil Young song lyrics might well be sung of WellBe’s smartwatch. After pressing and releasing the crown button twice, WellBe’s carousel appears. It includes a rotation of five icons, each with one or more functions.
The first is the emergency call icon, which provides an alternative method for calling for help. Next is the WellBe button, which enables you to ask WellBe questions from a curated health database. (More on this later.) Next is the pedometer, which automatically calculates your daily steps. It offers a button to reset, but will also automatically reset at the beginning of a new day. The heart rate monitor reports your current heart rate in beats per minute, using the sensor on the back of the watch.
Did You Know: A normal heart rate for a person not being active, called a resting heart rate, is 60 to 100 beats per minute. If exercising hard, your heart rate could reach 160 bpm or more.3
Finally, the settings button contains features to tweak your watch, similar to what you might see on a smartphone or laptop. You have the option of switching to airplane mode, making changes to the Wi-Fi mode, adjusting the sound or brightness, and reviewing recommended medical checkups.
As I have pointed out, the WellBe watch contains many useful health and safety features. However, I do want to be clear: When you see something so well designed as the WellBe watch — so much so that it is likely mistaken for an Apple watch — you may believe that it includes the same functions. It does not. The WellBe watch does not include the ability to make outside calls, with the exception of the emergency response center. In addition, you will not be able to text or search the internet. This watch is focused specifically on wellness and safety.
For a look at a medical alert system that features another great smartwatch with impressive functionality, read our review of Bay Alarm Medical.
WellBe is a close cousin to Alexa and Siri. However, she has a niche in the health and wellness sector. And I say she, because like the others, this voice-enabled virtual health assistant platform uses a female voice. To access the system, you always begin with, “Ok, WellBe …”
Not only does the WellBe system pull information from a curated health database, it also pulls information from a curated pet health database. I have reviewed quite a few medical alert systems, and have never seen this before. But I, for one, love it! When my goldendoodle or orange tabby cat shows signs of illness, I will turn to WellBe.
I decided to give WellBe a quiz.
My son was home with a migraine headache on this particular day so I asked: “Ok, WellBe, how long can a migraine headache last?” WellBe was not able to answer this question. However, when I asked, “What is a migraine headache?” Wellby offered a fairly long explanation, including the fact that migraines can last up to 72 hours.
WellBe can also answer questions about your health insurance. (I plugged in my insurance information when setting up the app.) I asked, “Ok, WellBe, do I have chiropractic coverage?” The system confirmed that I was covered up to 80 percent of the cost. Because this was personal rather than general information, I was asked for my pin number (provided with the system) before the information was provided.
Pro Tip: WellBe also operates on voice recognition. If you take a minute or two to do “voice training” with the speaker, you will no longer need to provide a pin for questions about private information.
Some general knowledge is also available. I asked, “Ok, WellBe, what is the weather forecast?” The voice assistant replied that rain was expected along with a high temperature of 39 and a low of 36. Wish I hadn’t asked!
Some people may be satisfied or even prefer to open up their laptop or use their smartphone to find this information. However, I can think of several groups within the older adult population who would find this voice-activated platform useful. This would include individuals with mobility issues who have a quick question but struggle with getting up and down. It also includes those with macular degeneration or other vision problems.
Medication non-compliance can and does lead to hospitalizations and preventable deaths. One cause of non-adherence among older adults is forgetfulness in taking the medication. This becomes especially likely when an older adult is taking more than one medication daily. With as many as 25 percent of older adults taking at least three drugs, non-adherence is a common problem.4
WellBe is designed to assist older adults and caregivers with this potentially dangerous issue. HandsFree Health has integrated the following health features within its WellBe speaker/app:
Another feature with great potential is the ability to integrate the speaker with other smart home or smart medical devices such as blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and smart scales.
Boredom, loneliness, depression — all are common with older adults. WellBe may be able to help through a few of its entertainment offerings. For example, older adults can listen to radio stations through iHeartRadio or audiobooks through audiobookstore.com.
One final note — while WellBe can be accessed from the phone, its battery does not have enough power to do a few things available on the speaker like streaming music or e-books.
What could possibly be missing, you are probably wondering at this point. Really, it’s only a few features. And yet, they are significant features worth some consideration.
First, with a system as sophisticated as this one, I would expect to see location detection available to caregivers. The response center does use GPS-assisted location detection during emergencies. Some other systems also offer caregivers this valuable feature. If your loved one has dementia and wanders off, you can quickly and easily locate their whereabouts. If you are having difficulty reaching your older parent and are growing concerned, you can quickly check your app. The ability to track an older adult’s device in real time can be invaluable for practical reasons and for peace of mind.
More medical alert systems are developing features focused on assisting caregivers. Among them, Aloe Care Health is a good one to check out. In addition to location detection, the system also includes motion sensors and some great communication features.
Equally important is fall detection. Because falls among people 65 and older are common, we recommend it for all older adults. With smartwatches, things get a little tricky. HandsFree Health addresses this issue on the app’s Frequently Asked Questions. Here’s what they had to say: “After extensive testing, we determined that fall detection is currently not accurate enough to include on our products. Worn on the wrist, fall detection would trigger false alarms resulting in a poor customer HandsFree Health is not alone in this opinion; most medical alert companies agree that fall detection is not effective on a wrist device.
I did speak to customer service about these omissions, and he had some good news for me. Location detection for caregivers is coming soon. The company is currently working on adding location detection to the newly released watch. He also assured me that they are also working on developing the technology to add fall detection. I am guessing that this will be a tougher nut to crack, but stay tuned. One other feature that will be coming soon is the ability to call a contact from the watch. Currently, contacts can only be called from the speaker. Any future updates will be added to the system automatically for all customers to access.
So where does this leave the consumer? My bet is that this slick-looking and overall high-functioning smartwatch would be worn consistently by some fashion-forward older adults who otherwise might skip a medical alert device altogether.
And as Voltaire famously said: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
I tend to agree with Voltaire. This system may not be perfect, but it is pretty darn good.
However, several groups might want to consider a device worn on a lanyard around the neck which includes fall detection — mainly those who are at a high risk of falls. This would include anyone with a condition that impacts balance like Parkinson’s disease, or prevents one’s organs from not getting enough oxygen like COPD, or diminishes mobility like osteoarthritis.
For a broader view of smartwatches designed for older adults, you may want to take a look at our synopsis: Best Medical Alert Systems Worn as Watches.
And for a comparison with another slick-looking device that includes fall detection, albeit on a lanyard, view the Medical Guardian array of on-the-go devices.
Response time is important. In emergency situations, the consequence of not receiving emergency services quickly can be devastating. With HandsFree Health, two of our calls clocked in under 20 seconds. That’s fast! We also had a few calls with a response time over a minute. While the industry standard for average response time is 30 seconds, the WellBe system average response time came in at 41 seconds. The response times for the calls were a bit inconsistent, but not bad for the average response time.
The HandsFree Health monitoring center has multiple locations (which protects customers in the case of a power outage in one location) and offers coverage in all 50 states. In fact, the monitoring center is TMA Five Diamond certified, the gold standard of certifications in the medical alert system industry.
One glitch I found in the emergency response system was the connection between my watch and the monitoring center. I called the center a total of six times. The first time I connected through the speaker, which proceeded as expected. The following two contacts, which I made using my watch, had a poor, choppy reception. During a fourth contact, the monitoring center associate had difficulty hearing me, and stated that we had lots of static. The other two calls proceeded normally.
WellBe’s benefits extend beyond use by an individual or couple within a household. HandsFree Health recommends its use in the following environments.
Although more eyes may be on older adults in these communities, a medical alert system like WellBe may still be worthwhile, particularly in independent living.
One of the great things about a community setting is the enrichment activities and events that are offered. Reminders about these occasions can be programmed into WellBe. And just like in a single-family home environment, residents can manage prescriptions and receive reminders on doctors’ appointments and medication refills. They can also use it for things like music and audiobooks. Finally, it could provide staff with the ability to receive notifications about a resident failing to take medication or for an emergency.
WellBe could be used by employees to get answers to frequently asked questions about their health care coverage, relieving the burden on the human relations department. They can also use the system to help stay on top of doctors appointments or other health-related reminders.
Some medical alert systems lease equipment to their customers, eliminating an up-front equipment fee. Others, like HandsFree Health, sell their equipment. For some, an initial cost of nearly $200 may be prohibitive. However, keep the following few points in mind as you are making your decision. First, this price is in the ballpark of several mobile systems with equipment fees that are also on the market. I have even seen equipment fees as much as $100 more expensive.
Second, the smartwatch beats the prices of other smartwatches on the market. (However, you can find less expensive smart speakers.) The Medical Alert Plus, which includes both the speaker and the watch, is definitely a bargain when compared to the combined prices of other smart devices.
Moving on to monthly fees. Monthly fees for most mobile or hybrid medical alert systems typically run between $35 and $50. HandsFree Health is in line with the industry standard. You will notice below that the Smart Speaker does not have a monthly fee. This is unusual in the industry, but Handsfree Health is providing customers with the option of using the speaker with all of the features mentioned above with one exception: you would not be able to call the emergency response center. However, you would have the option to add on this feature for $10 per month, which I think is a great price.
To give you a better idea of the range of starting monthly fees, I recommend reading Best Medical Alert Systems 2021.
Finally, although HandsFree Health does charge for shipping, it does not require activation or installation fees. Here’s a work-around that you might be interested in — HandsFree Health offers free shipping with the promo code, FREESHIP.
|Smart Speaker||SmartWatch||Medical Alert Plus|
I had a list of questions about my new system and was eager to speak to a company representative. I was somewhat disappointed when I checked my Quick Start Guides and the website and discovered that a phone number for customer service was nowhere to be found. Instead, I needed to fill out a contact form on the website to request a call. Overall, my expectation for customer service anywhere is easy accessibility by phone.
At the same time, I was pleased to have my call returned within the hour. From that point on, my experience was positive, and the representative who helped me was knowledgeable and polite.
HandsFree Health has made a splash in the market with its one-of-a-kind approach to medical alert systems. Its combination as a health information resource and a safety and wellness device make it a refreshing option.
For those who can absorb the somewhat hefty equipment cost, the many valuable features that the system offers is worth the industry-average monthly fee.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the system is lacking a few details. First, the reception with the emergency monitoring center was poor. This could pose a problem in the event of an actual emergency. Also, at this point, the system is missing a few important safety components: the ability to call contacts from the watch, location detection for caregivers and fall detection.
The watch is well suited for active and style-conscious older adults who feel there’s a stigma in wearing a medical-looking device. A watch such as the WellBe is a great alternative. And because the Medical Alert Plus system with both pieces is only an extra $10 per month, I suggest investing in the complete system.
The WellBe speaker (on its own) would likely be a good fit for older adults who are homebound or rarely go out on their own. I would recommend spending the extra $10 monthly fee to ensure that emergency calls can be placed with the monitoring center.
Regardless of whether you are more of the stay-at-home or on-the go type, the other caveat is that this is a system for those older adults who are comfortable with technology on some level. Of course, a family member or caregiver can take care of all of the front-end set up, but if your loved one is the person who prefers a flip phone over a smartphone or isn’t proficient on a computer on a basic level, they likely won’t take to WellBe.
Still, we think plenty of older adults will find it easy to use and will like the multifaceted features.
I look forward to watching HandsFree Health evolve and hopefully adds more features to its lineup. Overall, I think they’ve got themselves a winner.
If you or a loved one has a smartphone, you could download the WellBe Virtual Assistant app and enter her information to register the watch.
Customers have 30 days to return a product if not satisfied. The refund includes the equipment fee, monthly fee, and shipping.
Yes, a one-year limited warranty is included.
The WellBe system includes a T-Mobile SIM card that operates off of cell towers. If you lose electricity, you will still be able to use the speaker. This includes the ability to call the emergency response center if necessary.
You are able to include up to six contacts and phone numbers on the phone.
Handsfree Health.com. (2021). About Us.
HHS.gov. (2013, July 26). Summary of the HIPAA Security Rule.
Heartfoundation.org. (2021). How to Check Your Pulse (Heart Rate).
The WellBe Virtual Assistant App. (2021). Frequently Asked Questions.