The 6 Best Medical Alert Systems of 2020

Have some peace of mind with these lifesaving devices

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First Look

Best Overall: Medical Guardian

"One of Medical Guardian’s biggest strengths includes best-in-class coverage for roughly 1,300 feet in an at-home unit."

Best Budget: Bay Alarm Medical

"Bay Alarm Medical also provides free spouse coverage, which is perhaps where the biggest savings are when compared to other services."

Most Intuitive: Philips Lifeline

"Their FDA-approved systems have the largest number of subscribers in the industry."

Best for Safety: GreatCall

"GreatCall has embraced mobile and SmartPhone devices more so than its competitors, while still understanding how to cater to seniors’ preferences."

Best Battery Life: Response Now

"Their Belle device is a mobile medical alert pendant that works via a cellular service and is water-resistant, but not submersible."

Best EMT/EMD-Certified Monitoring: Medical Care Alert at Best Buy

"Among Medical Care Alert strengths are EMT/EMD-certified operators that have won customer service awards."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the number one cause of injury—and death from injury—in Americans over the age of 65 every year. In fact, one out of every four seniors falls annually, and the overall number of them is expected to increase as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age.

While the CDC offers advice on how to reduce the chances of falling, you’ll want to have a process in place to send for help if you or a loved one has fallen despite your best prevention efforts.

Fortunately, there are several companies that make medical alert systems designed to make it easy for someone who has collapsed to send for help immediately, without needing to get up or reach their phone to make a call. Some systems alert when the person who falls pushes a button worn on their body (often sported around their neck like a loose necklace or as a watch or bracelet). Other systems can even detect a fall on their own and send an alert to a contact list of family members, neighbors, or caregivers.

Choosing a medical alert system can be overwhelming because there are so many styles and options. We’ve sifted through the marketplace to make your decision-making process as seamless as possible.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Medical Guardian

Medical Guardian

Medical Guardian

Medical Guardian seems to do everything right. The company has award-winning customer service, alert systems for the home, and wearables for more active seniors on the go.

One of Medical Guardian’s biggest strengths includes best-in-class coverage for roughly 1,300 feet in any direction from the alarm base with an at-home unit. Further bolstering your peace of mind is a battery life of up to approximately 120 hours (five days). And, their units are “Fall Detection Ready,” with built-in technology that detects a fall and triggers a response team to the home.

A team of highly trained Emergency Response Operators works 24/7 and is certified by multiple third-party evaluators to ensure their frontline response is ready for anything. They’ve received The Monitoring Association’s Five Diamond Certification for intensive training, the Electronic Security Association certification, and FM Approved certification for dispatch services, to name just a few. Having a qualified team of operators is critical because they are the people responsible for coordinating response and care when a fall happens.

Medical Guardian has designed products for different lifestyles, including three in-home coverage options and three on-the-go devices. With these systems comes Wi-Fi, cellular, GPS tracking, and clear two-way communication. Month-to-month contracts are available, too. This brand is a standout for its communication, coverage, response, and affordability.

Medical alert systems start at around $30 per month.

Best Budget: Bay Alarm Medical

Bay Alarm Medical

Bay Alarm Medical

Bay Alarm Medical is not only the most budget-friendly medical alert system, but it’s also a close second to Medical Guardian for its overall features and value.

While it does not have the breadth of product options and technology that Guardian Medical has, Bay Alarm Medical does cover the basics in a strong way. The company offers in-home devices, on-the-go personal accessories, and even a system specifically for use in the car. Furthermore, it offers a “bundle & save” package to combine two or more coverage areas.

Bay Alarm Medical also provides free spouse coverage. This is perhaps where the biggest savings are when compared to other services. Medical Alert Systems are sometimes called “Personal Emergency Response Systems” (PERS) because they are contractually obligated to alert or detect a fall for the individual who is enrolled. With Bay Alarm Medical’s free spouse coverage, you essentially get two products for the price of one.

The plans are designed to be easy for the subscriber too, featuring no contract-length minimum, a 30-day trial period, and a Price-Lock Guarantee, so your monthly rate will never increase. You can easily switch plans as your needs change.

With one of the best in-home coverage areas at around 1,000 feet, Bay Alarm Medical plans start at about $20 per month.

Most Intuitive: Philips Lifeline

Philips Lifeline

Philips Lifeline

Founded in 1974, Philips Lifeline was the first medical alert system introduced in North America.

The brand's FDA-approved systems have the largest number of subscribers in the industry. However, it's important to note that Philips Lifeline’s coverage area maxes out at about 400 feet, much smaller than Guardian Medical and Bay Alarm Medical’s reaches.

Philips offers two systems for the home: HomeSafe Standard and HomeSafe with AutoAlert. While AutoAlert includes the technology for fall auto-detection, Standard provides alerts when the person who falls presses the button on their wearable pendant.

There is also an out-of-the-home device called the GoSafe 2. GoSafe 2 may be the best option if you choose Philips Lifeline because it can be used in and outside of the home and includes the company's AutoAlert feature, location technology, two-way communication through the pendant, and a cellular connection.

Philips is most intuitive because of its GoSafe 2 product. This pendant, while a bit more expensive, comes chock-full of the aforementioned features. And, it’s a simple pendant that protects users everywhere: in the home, in the shower (where many falls occur), and outside the home.

Another notable strength of Philips Lifeline is that it uses five modalities to more accurately pinpoint the device owner’s location. While other systems use Wi-Fi and GPS, Philips Lifeline uses “Assisted GPS” (A-GPS), which is faster than regular GPS because it uses satellite networks to quickly identify the user’s location. Indoors, the company takes advantage of available Wi-Fi, where A-GPS is less effective.

The third modality Philips Lifeline uses is Intelligent Location Breadcrumbs. After pressing the button, Philips Lifeline can use these digital breadcrumbs to help determine a person's location and direction of travel.

The devices are also enabled for Two-Way Communication, so the user can talk to an operator through their pendent to help pinpoint their location. And, with the Audio Beacon feature, Philips Lifeline operators can turn on a loud sound emitted from the pendant, so that caregivers arriving on the scene can find you when they arrive on the scene.

Pricing starts on the lower end with the HomeSafe Standard at about $30 per month. You can upgrade to HomeSafe with AutoAlert for around $45 per month, and opt for GoSafe 2 for roughly $50 per month, all with month-to-month billing. There are one-time startup costs for each plan.

Best for Safety: GreatCall

GreatCall

GreatCall

GreatCall offers unique features and a different kind of medical alert system model. The company's products go beyond fall detection and alert and instead provide additional safety services, integrated with the Verizon network (while virtually all others use AT&T). Both of these cellular network providers have great coverage nationally, but in some locations one is stronger than the other.

GreatCall has embraced mobile and SmartPhone devices more so than its competitors, while still understanding how to cater to seniors’ preferences.

Touted as “The Simplest Smartphone Ever,” GreatCall’s Jitterbug Smart2 (for around $150) looks just like a typical smartphone, but with streamlined features. It boasts a simplified, list-based menu, so there's no swiping or scrolling needed to find an app: The list puts the primary functions front-and-center. It also has voice-typing capability for faster and easier texting, and when using the telephone feature, a front-facing speaker creates clearer conversations.

One unique feature to the phone is a built-in “Call 5Star” button. This safety feature makes it easy for the person who needs help to simply press a button to get an operator from GreatCall on the line to help assess the situation, call emergency care, roadside assistance, or a family member. The operator stays on the line until help arrives. There’s an upfront cost to buy the phone at around $75, plus a monthly rate plan that ranges from about $15 to $60.

Another option is the Jitterbug Flip, which is a simple flip phone, not a smartphone, so it has larger buttons, a powerful speaker, flashlight, built-in camera, and even the 5Star Button for direct assistance. The flip phone costs around $50 to buy, and then you pay for one of their monthly plans that costs about $15 to $40.

The Lively Mobile Plus is another great option with a one-button, two-way communication device that goes anywhere. This waterproof device fits in the palm of your hand. The one-button feature gives you direct access to 5Star operators. The product costs around $25 upfront, and then you pay for a monthly plan that costs about $25 to $40.

The Lively Wearable 2 is even more modern and looks like today’s smartwatch. This wearable device can be accessed through the Lively app on an existing smartphone. It costs around $50 to buy, and then you pay for a monthly plan that costs about $25 to $40.

Best Battery Life: Response Now

Response Now

Response Now

If peace of mind comes with extended battery life, ResponseNow is an ideal pick, since its Belle device has a battery that lasts 30 days. Belle is a mobile medical alert pendant that works on a cellular service. While it is water-resistant, it's not submersible.

The device is constantly monitored by professional operators, so users can get emergency assistance after a fall, sudden illness, or any other physical discomfort. It can also be used to connect to friends and family members.

In addition to 30-day battery life, ResponseNow’s Belle device includes inside and outside coverage, cellular network coverage (through AT&T), and a brief charge time of only three hours. The company offers three price plans: monthly (about $40), quarterly (around $37 per month), and annually (roughly $35 per month).

If fall detection and/or device-tracking is a priority, an upgrade to the Belle+ device is necessary. Be aware, however, that Belle+ has a battery life of around five days.

Best EMT/EMD-Certified Monitoring: Medical Care Alert

Medical Care Alert

Medical Care Alert

Medical Care Alert boasts its use of only EMT- (emergency medical technician) or EMD- (emergency medical dispatch) certified operators.

The company provides three systems. Its Home system covers the entire home, includes a two-way speakerphone and a fall detection option, and starts at about $28 per month. The Home & Yard system covers the home and yard, has pendant communication and extended range, and starts at around $32 per month. The Medical Care Alert Home & Away system works nationwide, has GPS and cellular included, comes with a fall detection option, and starts at around $37 per month.

Among Medical Care Alert's strengths are EMT/EMD-certified operators that have won customer service awards. The company offers a free trial period and no long-term commitment contracts. The Price-Lock guarantees the monthly price will never go up.

There is no equipment to buy with Medical Care Alert’s systems, and the company's operators call and text anyone on an emergency contact list.

How We Chose the Best Medical Alert Systems

We compared these manufacturers using third-party reporting from testing agencies including Consumer Reports, the National Council on Aging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the AARP. These agencies also helped us evaluate which products meet the recommended guidelines for fall detection and medical alert services. The extent of coverage was a big factor in choosing the "Best Overall" candidate, and Medical Guardian took the lead as its devices cover up to 1,300 feet. Cost was also a big factor in making our decisions, and Bay Alarm Medical’s free spouse coverage provided an incentive to purchase.

What Are Medical Alert Systems?

Medical Alert Systems alert caregivers and responders when the subscriber falls. The notification comes in two ways:  

  • The person who falls notifies the company’s call center by pressing a button on a wearable device such as a pendant, watch, or mobile phone.
  • The medical alert system has built-in, fall detection technology (or a sensor) that is triggered when the subscriber falls. In this case, the call center automatically contacts the person who has fallen to assess the situation, and then if necessary, contacts the subscriber’s emergency contact list.

Some systems offer additional features like communication with family members, general safety help like roadside assistance, consultations with a nurse or doctor in a non-emergent situation, and lockboxes, so responders can find a key outdoors to access your home safely.

Is a Medical Alert System Right for Me?

There are many good reasons to strongly consider a medical alert system. If you or a loved one you care for is over 65 years old, the risk of injury from a fall may be worth having an alert system.

Active seniors who want to remain active and live in their own homes may also want an alert system for peace of mind. People suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease are prone to wandering could also benefit from a wearable pendant, watch, or smartphone device with two-way communication to a highly-trained operator. And certainly, anyone with high-risk medical conditions, like chronic heart disease, and are concerned with experiencing a heart attack could benefit from a medical alert system also.

How Do Medical Alert Systems Work?

Almost every medical alert system involves a device that tracks the subscriber, detects a fall, and notifies an emergency call center. The call center operator then assesses the situation and notifies the appropriate emergency contacts to respond to the person in need where they are at the time of their fall.

How Much Do Medical Alert Systems Cost?

Medical alert systems range in price. They often include a monthly fee of around $20 to $65. In some cases, there are setup and equipment fees.

There are a few outliers to the above price range. Some ultra-cheap systems cost less and offer barebones features. Other systems have more premium plans and earn their value by providing additional coverage and extra features.

Are Medical Alert Systems Covered by Insurance?

Most private insurers and Medicare do not cover medical alert systems. Medicaid may cover it partially or fully, depending on where you reside.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Take a Stand on Falls."