What You Need To Know About Purchasing A Medical Alert Monitoring System

Many of us, our parents, friends or other family members have been victims of heart attacks, strokes, falls, or other medical conditions that could be life-threatening. Consumer Reports relates that fall-related injuries are the number one cause of death for people over 65 years of age in the U.S. Why? Because so often they fall when no one is around to help them. Often our ability to remain independent relies on having someone to watch over us. In some cases we live alone and need to rely on monitoring systems for that watchful eye. For many of us medical alert monitoring systems have made independent living possible, assuring us that in case of a medical emergency we can quickly connect to life-saving medical care.

Does someone you know need a medical alert monitoring system? This Boomerater article hopefully will provide information to help you make the right decision.

Quick info about the types of systems available: You can opt for a two-way voice communication through a wrist or neck pendant, or two-way communication from the base unit. In both cases you can talk and hear each other. Another, less desirable option is one-way voice communication through a speakerphone in the base unit. This lets the person who is receiving the call hear what is going on and communicate, but you will not be able to respond to the person monitoring the unit on the other end.

Whatever type of monitor you are considering, make sure to learn all the details before you make your choice. To help you choose wisely, here is Boomerater's list of questions you should ask each provider when choosing a Medical Alert Monitoring System.

How does the system work?

  • If I press the button, what happens?
  • What is the average response time to the call? What is the average response time for someone to come to my home to help me?
  • Who do you call to let them know I'm in trouble?
  • Does an alarm sound in my house to let others know I pressed the button?
  • How long does it take until someone comes to help me?
  • How do you get into my house?
  • If I pressed the button by mistake, what do I do?

What are the technical specifications and limitations of the system?

  • What is the range? How far can I go from the base unit and still be monitored? Can I go outside to my garden?
  • Can I go in the shower or bath tub with the pendant or wrist band? Is it waterproof?
  • I'm I supposed to wear it while I sleep?
  • Do I need a special phone line?
  • If I have a cable phone line will it work?
  • What if my phone is hooked up to an answering machine?
  • What if I only have a cell phone?
  • What if the power goes out? Will the system still work?
  • How often do you test the system?
  • Can I travel with the monitor? Will it work in all 50 US states and other countries?
  • If my husband and I both need monitors can we share?
  • Can you tell if I fall while wearing the pendant, even if I don't press the button?
  • Do you offer a call check-in option at a designated time each day to make sure I'm OK ?

What is the cost? While most plans cost less than $1.00 a day, make sure you find out about associated costs.

  • Is there an activation or installation fee?
  • What is the equipment cost for the unit and pendants?
  • What is the monthly service fee?
  • Do I have to sign a monthly or yearly contract?
  • Does Medicare cover the cost?
  • Will my insurance pay for the system?
  • Can I "rent" the unit just for when I am alone for 3 months at a time?
  • If I decide to sign up, how long does it take to get the system?
  • If I don't like it, or don't need it any longer, can I get a refund?
  • What are your repair and replacement policies?

How does the CallCenter work?

  • Is your call center a 24 hours/ 7 days a week operation?
  • Does a live operator answer each call or will it sometimes go to voice mail?
  • Is the emergency call center owned and run by your company, or is it outsourced or subcontracted?
  • What types of emergencies does your call center handle? Just medical, or also home alarms, etc.
  • What type of training do the call center responders have? Are they certified?
  • How is my personal address and medical information kept private?

And, here's advice from a Boomerater member:

"Life Alert, Lifeline, and Always There are 3 good response companies. I know people who use, and have been happy with them. Some wear a bracelet, many wear the button on a necklace. The systems have a monthly fee, and do need to be checked regularly. So if you get one, don't just say "Oh, I have one now" and forget about it. If it's not checked and working, it's just like not having one at all. It is also wise to notify your local police department if your friend or family member has a condition such as Alzheimer's disease. Hiring an in-home health company, like Home Instead Senior Care, is also a good option in conjunction with an emergency response system. Even a once-a-week visit with a caregiver can help with keeping your loved one safe at home."

If you have advice you would like to offer other Boomerater members about Medical Alert Monitoring systems, go to the Q&A discussion in Boomerater's Health & Fitness section.