Many common medical conditions, such as a stroke or bad fall, can have debilitating results, rendering an individual unable to get to a phone or call for help. This can be a frightening and dangerous situation, especially when living alone. If you have a medical alert, it could save your life. But how do you choose the right medical alert system? Fortunately, there are many options available.

What is a Medical Alert System?

Medical alert systems are electronic devices that are designed to be accessed throughout the home and are often worn on the body. Once activated, a medical alert system will contact emergency services on behalf of the individual and have help sent to his or her location. Systems typically only require the push of a button to activate for situations in which the person cannot speak, although some offer two-way communication to enable communication with the operator.

While these devices are primarily used in an emergency requiring an ambulance, they can be used in urgent, but non-emergency situations as well. Some come equipped with a secondary function that allows the person to contact someone to help them without emergency services being dispatched. This can allow quick communication with a friend or relative familiar with the person’s medical needs.

Common Features

Features on these devices are varied but there are some common aspects and options one is likely to find while choosing an alert system.

Perhaps one of the best-known features of these devices is the ability to wear them on one’s person. This is typically done either around the neck or on the wrist, and it is important to consider which option is best for the situation. Wrist devices can irritate some skin conditions, but neck-worn devices can pose a safety concern in a fall. Many also include fixed devices placed throughout the home, typically near the floor, in the event a situation occurs when the person is not wearing the device. It is worth noting that most wearable devices are water-resistant or waterproof.

Other features tend to be related to communication. For example, many devices have a built-in microphone and speaker to allow the individual to speak with the operator. This can allow the patient to give details of the situation as well as allow the operator to verbally assist the individual or provide a calming influence while help is in route. As mentioned, most devices have a primary button that is for emergency use and calls for an ambulance, but many also include other call buttons. These are typically customized to connect the person with a non-emergency contact, such as a relative or physician.

Medical alert systems are commonly designed to make use of landline telephone lines, and a base station is often plugged into one as well as a power outlet. Batteries are used for the mobile portions of the device, such as the on-person alert button, and a back-up battery is often installed in the base station for use during power outages. The batteries are often rechargeable, so the patient does not have to replace them frequently. Some also come equipped with GPS and location detection in case there is a problem while away from the home.

Finally, these systems can typically be customized to suit a person’s medical history and conditions. Elderly patients or those with balance issues may want a device with fall detection, so emergency services will automatically be alerted if a fall should occur, which can be especially important if the person is rendered unconscious by the fall. Some devices track a person’s medications and can remind them when they are due for a dose as well as monitoring vitals, such as pulse and blood pressure. These systems issue a notification if there is a problem, such as high blood pressure. In some cases, medical alert devices can use this technology to double as a fitness tracker and keep track of exercise and activity levels.

New Features

Older medical alert systems were based on landlines. Now, many of these systems now do not require landlines and may use GPS and cellular technology. According to PC Mag, systems with GPS tracking may allow you to feel safer when you go out in public because the system is able to go with you. Consumer Reports states that emergency medical alert systems that have GPS tracking can be helpful if you get lost or if you are unable to talk. Because of the technology, the monitoring service will be able to pinpoint your location and find you.

Newer systems may also offer fall detection for an additional monthly fee. Devices with fall detection claim to be able to sense when you fall. According to Consumer Reports, systems with fall detection may not always work correctly, so you should be careful. With these systems, they may detect a fall when you simply have lost your balance or have dropped the emergency button. When a fall is detected, the system calls the monitoring center.

Many of the emergency medical systems service providers offer services in multiple languages by contracting with third-party translation services. Some are able to handle up to 240 different languages with translation services. Some of the batteries in the systems also have very long lives before they need to be charged. Some mobile units contain batteries that will stay charged for up to four days. For the in-home buttons, battery life may last as long as seven years before the battery needs to be replaced.

Popular Medical Alert System Providers

While there are many different medical alert system providers, the following are some of the most popular:

  • Mobile Help – This highly-rated system has the option of using a cellular-based service, rather than strictly landline, and comes with fall detection, vitals monitoring, and activity tracking.
  • Bay Alarm Medical – This is another popular system with both cellular and landline options and comes with a “vial of life” package that gives first responders information about the patient’s medical history.
  • Philips Lifeline – One of the best-known medical alert system providers, Philips Lifeline allows a fair amount of personalization of its systems as well as the option to create a care plan.
  • Medical Guardian – As another system with a lot of positive feedback, these devices are popular and do not require equipment purchases or long-term contracts.
  • Life Alert – A well-established provider of medical alert systems, Life Alert offers a 72-hour backup battery for the base station and fully waterproof devices.

Ultimately, it is important to choose a medical alert system the fits the patient’s medical situation. Safety is of the utmost importance, so a system that is easy-to-use and incorporates features important to the person’s needs will be a good fit. One should consider the lifestyle of the user. For example, a more active person who spends a large amount of time away from home would likely benefit from location tracking.

The quality of the company is also worth considering, including aspects such as the level of customer service and value of the service based on the price as well as whether the company is certified by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL). All these features can help individuals find the best system to keep themselves, or their loved ones, safe.