How To Choose The Right Medical Alert System For You

Guest Post by Bryan Stapp, President of American Response Technologies, Inc.

There are many good medical alert systems available on the market today, and the choices can be overwhelming.  The good news is there are lots of options; they are highly reliable, and also very affordable.  The bad news is that it can be confusing to sort through all the choices.

Here is an overview of the differences between some of the most popular medical alert systems available to you, and some ideas on things to look for.

With any system you consider, we recommend you look for companies who offer:

  • Name brand equipment with warranty.  Look for quality names you’ve heard of like BOSCH or GE
  • No long term contract – never sign a long term contract, your situation may change
  • 30 Day return policy

Two-Way Medical Alert System with 24/7 Monitoring

This is the most popular type of medical alert system, and is often called a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS).  You’ve probably seen these systems advertised on TV.  This type of medical alert system consists of a two-way console which communicates with a monitoring center.  A signal is sent when you press the button that is worn on your wrist or around the neck as a pendant.

The monitoring center will have your complete information on a computer screen at the time you call.  They will take appropriate action depending on the situation, including dispatching 911 to your location and notifying people on your call list.  This is the type of medical alert system offered by Medical Care Alert and many other good companies.

Typical Cost: $27.45 a month and higher.

Things to look for:

  • Range of the pendant signal to the base unit  – 800 feet minimum
  • US Based monitoring agents, not based overseas
  • Name brand equipment with warranty.  Look for quality names you’ve heard of like BOSCH or GE
  • No long term contract – never sign a long term contract, you situation may change
  • 30 Day return policy

American Response Technologies, Inc.


Two-Way Medical Alert System, No Monitoring, Calls 911 or other number

This type of medical alert system consists of a two-way console and button which will dial any phone number you program into the unit.  It will call a neighbor, family member, doctor, 911 (except in California and Illinois) or any other number you program.

Typical Cost: $275.00 – $350.00 to purchase.

Things to look for:

  • Range of the pendant signal to the base unit  – 800 feet minimum
  • Phone type – many do not support VoIP phones or DSL phones from your cable company
  • 911 policy in your local area – residents of California and Illinois may not program 911 into this type of medical alert system – check your local laws before considering this type of system

Two-Way Medical Alert System with Speakerphone Pendant – Monitored or not-monitored

This type of medical alert system may have monitoring, or may dial a number you choose directly.  The distinguishing feature is that the pendant itself is a two-way speakerphone and allows the user to communicate with the base as long as they are within range.  The range of these systems is limited, often only  100-300 feet from the base.

Medical Alert SystemsThe advantage of this type of medical alert system is the ability to speak into the pendant if you are far away from the base unit and cannot be heard.  However, these pendants are large, and look like a small walkie-talkie around the neck.  They also require frequent battery changes, and are uncomfortable to wear at night in bed.

Typical Cost: $34.95 a month and higher for a monitored system.  $275.00 – $350.00 to purchase a system without monitoring.

Things to look for:

  • Range of the pendant signal to the base unit  – These systems tend to have a shorter range
  • Will the senior actually wear it?  Users tell us that seniors find these large pendants annoying and tend to remove them, placing them on a nightstand or table nearby.  This defeats the purpose of the system, which needs to be on your person at all times in the event of an emergency.

Cellular Medical Alert Systems – Not Monitored, Calls 911

This type of medical alert system is often sold as an “add-on” to a traditional Medical Alert system with monitoring.  The small, hand-held device transmits a signal via GSM cellular when the button is pressed and dials 911 directly.

The advantage of this type of medical alert system is the perceived added security to have access to emergency personnel when you are outside of the home, or beyond the range of your home medical alert system.

However, it’s important to understand what these systems do, and what they don’t do:

  • Calls 911 – the call will be routed to 911 based on the location of the nearest cellular tower that connects your call
  • No Location Information Provided – these are not GPS systems.  If you are unable to speak, 911 will only know the location of the cellular tower closest to your current location.  In 2012, cellular providers are required to give 911 a geo-location within 300 meters (about 1,000 feet) of the location of the signal.
  • No Personal Information Provided – 911 will not know your name, or personal medical history.

We are aware of a very high dissatisfaction rate, and high cancellation rate for these kinds of 911 call devices.  Most of the dissatisfaction is due to having to keep the unit charged, and that it does not contact a monitoring center with your specific information.  Some people often think these are GPS locator units, but they are not designed for that purpose.

Typical Cost: $10.00 – $20.00 a month in addition to a monthly PERS plan of $30-60 a month.

Things to look for:

  • Battery life – these systems need to be constantly charged
  • Actual need – will the person using the system be alone outside of the home enough to justify the cost?

Cellular Phone As a Substitute for a Medical Alert System

Some families will provide a cellular phone to a senior and suggest they use it in an emergency instead of getting a dedicated medical alert system.

The expectation is that in an emergency, the senior will have the cell phone charged up and on their person, be able to open it up and dial 911, and be able to communicate their name, location and emergency.

The advantage is cost.  However, a cellular phone is a poor substitute for a medical alert system, and provides a false sense of security.

There are 3 basic problems with calling 911 from a cell phone:

  • They Don’t Know WHO You Are.  The caller ID from your cell phone does not identify who you are, just your phone number and possibly the general metropolitan area where your cellular service originates from.   They won’t know your name, home address, medical conditions, or who to call in the event of an emergency.
  • They Don’t Know WHERE You Are.  911 responders won’t immediately know where you are. The closest they will know is the location of the cell tower you happened to have used when placing your call.  If you lose your connection or drop your cell phone before you can give your location, they might not be able to find you.
  • Cell Phones DON’T SEND GPS Coordinates.  Your phone may have GPS on it, but that information is not sent to 911.  U.S. wireless carriers are not required until 2012 to provide emergency responders with the latitude and longitude of a 911 caller.  And once they do, they are only required to be accurate to within 300 meters (984 feet) of the caller.  That’s three football fields away from where you may be.

Typical Cost: Typical cellular phone plans cost around $30.00 – $50.00 a month with a two year contract.  Phone hardware extra.

Things to look for:

  • Are the buttons large and easy to push?
  • Is there a dedicated 911 button?
  • Does 911 in your area route to local dispatchers?  Some 911’s route to county or highway patrol offices
  • Will the senior keep it charged, on their person, and be able to use in an emergency?

Choosing the right medical alert system for you:

We know the choices are overwhelming and confusing, and that families need to balance the needs of the senior, convenience, costs, and reliability.  Speak to your doctor or caregiver, or contact a reputable medical alert system provider to learn more.

Bryan Stapp is the President of American Response Technologies, a leading provider of medical alert systems for seniors nationwide.  Their “Caregiver Tips” blog was chosen as the People’s Choice Best of the Web winner of 2012 Best Senior Living Blogs by an Organization.  Learn more at or .

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