Eight Questions You Need to Ask When Buying a Medical Alert System

Eight Questions You Need to Ask When Buying a Medical Alert System

Eight Questions You Need to Ask When Buying a Medical Alert System
Reading Time: 6 minutes

A fall can have devastating effects on the elderly or other vulnerable loved ones. We all want family members who suffer an injury to get help as quickly as possible and to get the best possible treatment. Medical alert systems—where the simple press of a call button can summon emergency help or contact a caregiver or family member—can offer reassurance. 

If you are a caregiver or care recipient trying to find the right medical alert system in Canada, this article is for you!

What Is a Medical Alert System?

Also called a personal emergency response system (PERS), a medical alert system is an in-home or mobile combination of communication and computer technology that provides emergency monitoring to ensure the user’s safety and well-being. The system is designed to signal an emergency that requires urgent attention and to call emergency medical personnel. It can also alert family members and caregivers about an emergency. Once the alert is triggered, a signal is sent to a remote alarm-monitoring system, where the situation is assessed. If an immediate response is required, medics will be dispatched or family members will be contacted.

An in-home medical alert system consists of a console and a pendant with a help button. Your home is monitored electronically through a base unit that is plugged into a standard wall outlet and telephone jack. You can wear the pendant around your neck, on your belt, or on your wrist. It is designed to be water-resistant and comfortable. In contrast, a mobile medical alert system does not require a base station. In case of emergency, you push the help button on the pendant and the pendant immediately relays an alarm to a 24-hour emergency call centre. The call centre’s live operator has instant access to your basic medical history and emergency contacts.

Some medical alert systems incorporate nationwide wireless voice, data, and GPS technology, an integration that enables real-time monitoring, location tracking, and expediting of personal emergency assistance throughout Canada. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology allows people with receivers to pinpoint geographical locations. With the help of such space-based navigation technology, the medical alert systems can provide lifesaving information about location and time. In recent years, medical alert systems have been further improved by the introduction of automatic fall buttons that automatically detect a fall and activate an emergency call.

Who Should Use Medical Alert Systems?

Medical alert devices have proven to be reliable companions for many independent but vulnerable people living alone. Although most seniors want to remain at home, they are understandably worried about falling and other possible medical emergencies, like the heart trouble that may be indicated by severe chest pains and shortness of breath. In Canada, over 25% of persons 65 and older suffer a fall every year, incidents that can result in broken bones, head injuries, hip fractures, and other serious injuries. In such situations, medical alert systems come in handy. You can benefit from a medical alert system if you or a member of your household:
  • Has a chronic condition like diabetes or heart trouble.
  • Has poor eyesight or hearing.
  • Suffers from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
  • Are recovering from surgery or other medical procedures.
  • Is epileptic.
  • Has a disability.
  • Are taking medication that induces dizziness, faintness, or sleepiness.
  • Simply want the extra sense of security.

Questions to Ask

As you shop for a medical alert system, these questions will help you find one that meets your requirements with respect to functionality and cost.

1. Do you need an in-home device or a mobile device?

The two main options in the Canadian market are in-home devices and mobile devices. An in-home medical alert device works only within your home and its immediate surroundings, from about 400 feet to 1,200 feet from the base station. The mobile or on-the-go medical alert device functions both within your home and outside it. A mobile device is more expensive and requires frequent charging. The cellular technology in the pendant can contact and speak with the monitoring station using a two-way speakerphone.

2. Does a medical alert system require a contract? If so, how long before it expires?

Many care givers and recipients wrestle with the question of whether they should sign a contract for a medical alert system. There are advantages and disadvantages. Entering into a contract may save you money by reducing your service fees and spares you from having to worry about cost increases during the term of the contract, which typically lasts one year.  It’s important to note that some service providers require signing multi-year agreements, so you must be comfortable with the monthly rate. Regardless, we suggest calling the service provider to negotiate the fees. Since some do not have published rates, it is possible for you to find a better deal with them simply by asking. A contract can make it difficult to cancel the service if you decide it’s not right for you, if you become unable to afford the expense, or if you or your loved one experience long-term hospitalization or death. You should avoid getting locked into a long-term contract when better alternatives exist that provide no-contract options along with lower prices. Most of the medical alert system providers offer no-contract options. And those that do feature contracts give customers a reduced rate for the contract term.

3. Who gets called when you press the emergency button?

When you press the emergency button, it sends a radio signal to a base unit that in turn sends an emergency signal through your phone line to the monitoring centre. A trained professional receives the call and responds through the base unit, which functions as a speakerphone. If you cannot respond, local help is dispatched immediately. You can choose the person you want to respond if you have an emergency: a relative, a friend, a neighbor who lives nearby. For instance, if you fall in the kitchen and are unharmed but need help getting up, you can push the button and ask the response centre to send your next-door neighbor.

4. Can you do without a landline?

Medical alert systems were originally designed to function in the home, and were therefore connected to a landline. These types of devices are still in use today. With recent advancements in technology, though, other options are now available as well. In Canada, many companies now offer in-home systems that work over a cellular network. Even if it primarily works with a landline, the system enables you to speak to an agent from your home unit by pressing the wearable call button. There are also purely mobile options. Operating over cellular networks and incorporating GPS technology, mobile medical alert systems allow you to call for help from home as well as when you are out and about. If you get lost or press the call button for help but are unable to speak, the monitoring device will locate you. If you stay home most of the time, you can make do with the in-home system. But if you tend to go out and need extra protection while you’re out, the mobile device is your best option.

5. Should you always wear a help button? What forms can it take?

The medical alert button is the most important component of the system. You should wear the help button at all times, even when showering or sleeping. You never know when an emergency may occur. You can wear the help button as a necklace pendant, a wristband, or even a belt clip. Make sure the button is water-resistant so that you can wear it when you’re in in the shower or in a pool.

6. Is the call centre reliable?

The call centre is run by the medical alert company providing the system. It is staffed by trained professionals who respond to emergency calls. On average, call centres respond in 30 or 40 seconds. Factors that affect response time include the size of the call centre, the number of agents, and the number of call centres in various time zones.

7. Do medical alert systems include fall detection?

As you enter old age, the risk of falling and being seriously hurt when you fall increases. Without help, persons who fall and are unable to get up on their own may remain undiscovered for days. That’s why most medical alert systems include a fall-detection component that is integrated with the wearable help button. The button has sensors that detect falls automatically so that if you do fall, you don’t need to physically press the help button. Even if you can’t, an automatic call will be made and the emergency call centre will instantly be aware of the incident and act fast to provide emergency medical help. Want to know more about automatic fall detection? Join us as we explore in more detail how fall detection works in this article.

8. How much does a medical alert system cost?

In Canada, the cost of medical alert systems ranges from about $20 to $60 per month. Medical alert devices with advanced features like smart watch systems, motion sensors, and activity tracking are more expensive. Mobile medical alert systems are more expensive than in-home systems, since the former include features like GPS tracking and cellular coverage. Fall detection is an add-on, not a standard feature of medical alert pendants. Companies that provide fall detection charge more for it, usually on monthly basis. To save money, take into account the cost of equipment. Some providers require you to purchase the equipment for the system; others allow you to rent it and add that monthly cost to your monthly monitoring fee. Also consider the costs of installation, accessories, monthly service, upgrades, repairs and replacements, and cancellation, and whether the cost of the system is tax-deductible.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and they do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the providers being reviewed. The providers and WirelessWizard assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness and without any warranties of any kind whatsoever, express or implied.
Under the banner Tech For Seniors, WirelessWizard is pleased to share innovations for older adults—with a focus on deferring as much as possible the time when getting older gets in the way of living life independently. Check out all of tech-for-seniors content here.
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