Medical alert systems provide crucial protection and peace of mind to thousands of people across the country. However, for those who need but have yet to choose such a system, it can be incredibly confusing.

There are so many options on the market today, all offering slightly different features and functionality that it can be difficult to narrow down your choices, much less find the one that’s right for your budget and individual needs. We’ve taken the guesswork out of finding the best medical alert system for you.


#1. Medical Guardian

medical guardian logo

Our top recommendation is the Medical Guardian system. Its reliability, affordability and capabilities help it rank very highly in a competitive area, but it also incorporates quite a bit of advanced technology to help keep you or your loved one safe at all times.

One of the best things about the Medical Guardian system is the fact that you can choose from different options, including the Classic Guardian, a system that will automatically detect falls, and a mobile system with GPS technology.

Key Features:

  • Features the farthest range of comparable systems (no need for a range extender) of 1,300 feet
  • No long-term contracts needed
  • Call center staff are highly trained
  • Payment options can lower the monthly price
  • Mobile system offers unlimited range

#2. Bay Alarm Medical

bay alarm medical logo

Our second pick is the Bay Alarm Medical system. It provides quite a few advantages when compared to other options on the market, including a base range of 1,000 feet. It also comes with either a waterproof necklace or a wristband depending on your personal preferences.

The price of the Bay Alarm Medical system is slightly lower than most other competitors on the market, and the ability to pay annually actually reduces it further. There are also premium options that can be added for an additional charge, including a GPS-enabled cellular base (although the premium package is about twice the cost of the standard system).

Key Features:

  • A significant range of 1,000 feet.
  • Waterproof necklace or wristband.
  • Premium package with GPS functionality is available.
  • 32 hour battery backup
  • Two-way communication with call center directly from pendant or wristband.

#3. LifeFone

lifefone logo

Our third pick is the LifeFone system. It combines some unique functionality with good range and reliable performance, as well as the benefits of a fully-trained call center staff. The LifeFone’s primary advantage is the fact that you can use the pendant to answer your phone (you can answer with the console, too). Like the Bay Alarm Medical system mentioned above, the LifeFone system offers a range of 1,000 feet, and the price is about average for the industry ($30 per month).

The company offers both quarterly and annual billing to reduce the costs, and the premium package brings GPS to the table, as well as automatic fall detection. The system also comes with a LifeFone Emergency Response Card to keep in your wallet. It provides medical personnel direct access to your medical information via a 24-hour response center.

Key Features:

  • 24/7 monitoring in 200 different languages
  • Free activation
  • 1,000 foot range
  • GPS availability with the premium package
  • Available long-range help button.
  • Bullet Point 2

How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

In order to make an informed decision regarding your protection, or that of a loved one when buying a medical alert system, it’s important to know how they work. While there is a lot of technical jargon used in marketing materials, it’s actually relatively simple.

Essentially, these systems rely on modern monitoring technology to connect at-risk individuals with professionally trained call center help, as well as professional medical assistance. However, the equipment used varies greatly from one system to another, so we’ll constrain our main discussion to the primary system components, and then touch on additional equipment that might be offered with various systems.

Base Unit:

lifefone system

Depending on the system in question, this might be called a base unit, base console or something else. However, it all boils down to the same thing – it’s the portion of the system that connects to the home’s phone line and allows communication with the call center. The unit should have both a microphone and a loudspeaker, and should feature large, easy to see buttons, as well.

Neck Pendant / Wristband

medical alert pendant

Most systems have a pendant that is worn by the at-risk individual at all times, but some systems can be configured with a wristband instead of a pendant. In both cases, they function in the same way. Generally, the simplest of these are little more than a “help button”. If you fall or are injured in some way, simply pressing the button will alert the call center staff, who will then contact medical or emergency services in your area.

Alarm Monitoring

The call center is the hub of the entire system. All calls or alerts from the at-risk individual are routed to the call center. Call center staff should be highly trained to communicate with elderly individuals, as well as other at-risk consumers in order to ascertain their condition, keep them calm during an emergency or accident, and to communicate with emergency/medical services in the area. Call centers should be available 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

So, how do these components come together to provide peace of mind for the at-risk person? Actually, it’s not really that complicated.

​Example of How Medical Alert Devices Can Work in an Emergency

Let’s say that the medical alert system has been set up in the home. The at-risk individual (you or your loved one) is wearing the pendant, and coming down the stairs. Suddenly, a misstep causes the person to fall, injuring themselves.

With a medical alert system, help is as close by as the help button on the pendant. There is no need to try to reach a telephone to call for help. They can simply press the help button and the call center will be alerted via a wireless signal sent from the pendant, through the base unit, to the call center. Some systems have a microphone and speaker built into the pendant to allow communication between the injured person and call center staff, too.

caregiver

Depending on the system you use and how you want to configure it, alerts may be sent to:

  • ​911
  • Local emergency services
  • Family/Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Caregivers

Obviously, the owner of the medical alert system must have a phone line of some type. A landline is the best option, as it offers the best reliability. While there are systems that can work with VoIP technology, this isn’t really recommended as this technology is not as reliable.

Cellular technology can also be used, and makes a good secondary option if you or your loved one does not have a landline and installing one is out of the question. The process works the same way with a cellular connection as it does with a landline, but the base unit will use a cellular network instead. Of course, the signal strength of the carrier in that area will have an impact on functionality and reliability, and there may be additional charges with this sort of setup.

A Note on Pendants and Wristbands​

wristband

Make sure that the pendant or wristband that comes with the system is waterproof and can be worn in the shower/bath, and while swimming. Not only is this important for protecting the pendant/help button, but quite a few falls happen in the bathroom or bathtub, so it is crucial that you have this form of protection.

GPS Functionality

gps functionality

While some systems are pretty basic, others come with additional features or can be configured with advanced functionality. GPS technology is a good example of this. A GPS-enabled pendant can be an invaluable benefit for those who live an active lifestyle, but need the assurance and peace of mind that only comes from having a medical alert system.

The pendant or wristband contains a GPS chip, which ties into the medical alert system and allows location tracking from the call center. In the case of an accident or an emergency, call center staff can use GPS technology to inform medical services of the individual’s location.

Automatic Fall Detection​

fall detection

Another advanced feature is automatic fall detection. This is a valuable addition to basic services because it can automatically alert the call center to a fall if the person wearing the pendant or wristband is unable to press the help button. However, it should be noted that the sensors used to automatically detect falls are not perfect, and there is a chance for false alarms, and for some falls not to be detected.

Things to Consider Before Choosing a Medical Alert System

A wide range of medical alert systems exists today, and it can be very hard to choose between them. Between similar features, similar prices and slick marketing materials, it’s more confusing than ever before. The three systems we highlighted above embody best-of-breed features, low prices and reliable functionality, but there are other considerations that you’ll need to make before purchasing a system, whether for yourself or a loved one.

Cost

cost of service

Obviously, cost is going to be a major concern. The average price per month for a medical alert system is roughly $30, but some companies offer ways to reduce that, such as through quarterly or annual payments.

You also need to carefully consider the contract terms when buying a system, as there can be penalties for cancelling the service, as well as hidden fees and long-term contracts that you’re required to keep. Pay close attention to the fine print whenever comparing systems and ensure that you’re not only getting what you’re paying for, but that you’re not being tied into a long-term situation.

Equipment Range

equipment range

Range is a crucial consideration when purchasing a medical alert system. Essentially, this applies to the effective communication range of the pendant/wristband with the base unit. Our top pick, the Medical Guardian system, has an industry-best range of 1,300 feet. Our second and third picks (Bay Alarm Medical and LifeFone, respectively), both offer ranges of 1,000 feet.

The greater the range on the system, the farther from the base unit you or your loved one can travel while still enjoying protection. This is a crucial consideration, particularly for individuals who regularly go outdoors around the house, those who live in larger homes, or whose phone line configuration does not allow the base unit to be installed in the center of the home.

Alarm Monitoring

alarm monitoring

The entire point of owning a medical alert system is to ensure that if an accident or emergency occurs, there is help immediately at hand. That requires the company’s alarm monitoring be up to par. Never consider a company that does not offer 24/7 monitoring by professionally trained call center staff.

Make sure that the call center staff are certified professionals, and demand proof from the company before making a purchase. It’s also important to verify whether the monitoring is done in-house, or if the company outsources the monitoring to another location. Generally speaking, in-house monitoring is always preferable, as there is no guarantee that outsourced monitoring services are certified, or even located in the United States.

GPS Tracking

gps tracking

We’ve touched on GPS tracking before, but it bears further scrutiny. You will not likely find this offered in any basic package, but most companies today do make it available in higher-end packages and premium systems. It is well worth considering, particularly if you or your loved one has an active lifestyle. It can offer significant peace of mind whether you’re out for a morning jog, a walk on the beach or are just making a trip to the grocery store. GPS tracking allows the call center to track your geographic location, and direct medical or emergency services to you.

Fall Detection

fall detection

Like GPS tracking, we’ve mentioned fall detection, but this is another area that bears further consideration. Most medical alert systems today offer automatic fall detection as part of an upgraded package, and it can be a true lifesaver in some instances. However, remember that this does increase the cost of the system, and that the sensors here are imperfect. With that being said, the additional peace of mind can be priceless.

Battery Life

battery life

How long does the battery in the pendant or wristband last? The longer the battery lasts, the less you’ll have to worry about weak/low charge complications, reduce effective range and the like. It’s also worth considering whether the system uses a rechargeable battery or if you must replace the battery when it dies. If the battery must be replaced, find out if it takes batteries that are widely available or if are they specialty items.

5 Questions to Ask Your Medical Alert Provider

We’ve covered many details about medical alert systems, but we’re not quite done yet. Because these systems can vary quite a bit in terms of functionality, lifespan, durability and quality, it is important that you ask your medical alert provider several questions.

What is the average response time for alerts?

Obviously, this is a very important question. If the response time is too long, it could mean that you or your loved one will be without help for an extended period. Ideally, the response time from the call center should be immediate, or within a few seconds at the most. Obviously, if help is needed from area medical or emergency services, their response times will have little to do with the speed of the call center staff in responding to your initial call for help.

What warranties are provided on equipment?

Accidents happen. Electronic components fail. A simple lightning strike could burn out the base unit. An accident could break your pendant. It’s always possible that an internal flaw will render a component inoperable. Find out about any type of warranty coverage provided on the system components, and ask about anything that might void warranty coverage.

What happens if I move to another city or state? Is the system transferable?

While many medic alert systems can be moved from city to city or even state to state, that’s not the case with all of them. Find out if your system is transferrable, and the steps you’ll need to take if you do move to another area.

What is the equipment range?

Again, range is a crucial consideration. Verify the distance you can go from the base unit before losing signal.

What are the contract terms?

Before signing any contract, make sure to read it thoroughly, but also ask for clarification on the terms. The provider should be happy to explain exactly what you’re agreeing to with the contract, including any early termination penalties, the duration of the contract, cancelation fees and the like.

Use the information in this guide to find the right medical alert system for your needs or those of your loved one. Compare your options and buy with care to ensure the right fit for your budget, but also so that you are not lacking key features for protection and peace of mind. While our top three recommendations are among the best in the industry, there are numerous others available that may be worth your consideration.

Complete List of Medical Alert Systems We've Reviewed​

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