Medical alert services and equipment are used by many people to give them peace of mind in case someone who is elderly or ill needs emergency care and is unable to reach a phone. These are also known as personal emergency response systems (PERS). Choosing the right service and equipment for your needs and budget is important, and an important consideration is the contractual obligation involved. This varies by service provider. Many consumers complain about deceptive sales practices and have unwittingly signing up for long-term contracts that they later regret.
Key considerations when choosing a medical alert system
According to one company, an estimated 1.6 million people use some type of medical alert system.1 For each user, needs may be slightly different, but the following factors should be carefully weighed no matter what your circumstances:
- Does the provider have a high-quality monitoring center (often called a “central station”)?
- A good long-lasting battery backup for the console is important, especially in case of a natural disaster, when the elderly and disabled may need help the most. According to an industry trade association, 24 hours is more typical.((Central Station Alarm Association, “Security Industry VoIP White Paper”, available at http://www.csaaul.org/CSAAIssues.htm, visited 2/25/2009.)) Some systems we reviewed had far shorter battery backup.
- Consider the battery life of the pendant/wristband. Battery life can differ significantly among providers, and a dead battery could have tragic consequences.
- Using a service with a monitoring center will probably reduce the likelihood of false alarms, and provide trained help in resolving calls
- Monthly fees can add up: $300-500 annually. Consider how and by whom these will be paid
- Is there a long-term contract commitment?
- Consider the layout of the home and the user’s lifestyle, then look at the range of the monitoring device, which can vary widely by manufacturer (see ratings chart).
Another key decision when shopping for a medical alert system is whether to purchase an ongoing monitoring service, or simply monitoring equipment without any ongoing services. These two options are explained more fully below, along with ratings and reviews of medical alert providers and their agreements.
With these services, there is a servicing agreement entered into between the customer and a company that provides ongoing monitoring of the alert system. With these arrangements, the monitoring service is notified when the alert device is triggered, and is responsible for investigating and notifying the appropriate persons and/or emergency responders.
These services are more expensive than alert products that simply dial pre-programmed numbers (see “Equipment-Only Providers”, below). A monthly fee is charged for the service, often $30-$40. There may also be a one-time installation or “activation” fee ($50 to $100 is common).
With monitoring services, it is important to evaluate the quality of the “central station”– the centers where alerts and reminders (if any) are handled. Some things to look for:
- Are the centers UL-listed? Underwriters Laboratories examines equipment as well as staffing issues.
- Are they certified by an outside agency such as the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA)? Check here for a list of “Five Diamond” certified central stations from the CSAA.
Some providers sell just the equipment necessary to pick up the alert signal from the alert button and place calls to pre-programmed phone numbers. They do not provide a monitoring center to receive and respond to calls, so there is no service agreement required. There is a small ongoing cost, however, of replacing the batteries in the pendant and monitoring device.
Note: RatingLab is not affiliated in any way with any providers of medical alert products or services.
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LifeStation, Inc. (www.lifestation.com). Visited 2/5/09. ↩