How Medical Alert Systems Work


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Written by Aaron Hall | Last Updated February 24th, 2020
Aaron N. Hall is a Content Management Specialist for Best Company and specializes in the home security and medical alert system industries. He would tell you that he’s probably taking pictures, writing music, or working on his next novel while out of the office, but he’s actually just watching Parks and Rec.

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Medical alert systems come in a variety of different settings and features but for the most part, they operate the same way. Systems have evolved over the years with the invention of cell phone towers and WiFi, but landline systems are still regularly purchased. So how do these life-saving devices work? In the following, we break down how they're installed, how you call for help, and how help finds you.

How Do You Install It?

This largely depends on the system. For the most part, there are two kinds of medical alert systems: cellular and landline.

With a cellular system, all that needs to be done is to plug the base unit into a typical power outlet. It's as simple as that. There is only one wire protruding from the medical alert system, and that should be the AC adapter for your power outlet. Of course, there may be a little more setup depending on your manufacturer, but most cellular medical alert systems are straightforward in this regard.

Cellular systems are also able to communicate to your emergency representatives through cell phone towers. All GPS-enabled systems will use this function so the carrier can have more freedom to go shopping or go on walks without having to leave the comfort and safety of their alert system. After all, it would be impossible to take a walk at the park and communicate through a landline system at home.

A landline system is seen as more traditional. They need to be plugged into a landline phone connection as well as the typical wall outlet, so make sure you pick a spot in your home where the cables can reach each point. As you can probably assume, the medical alert system will use the landline connection to call your emergency representative. Cellular systems are becoming more popular, but landline systems are still less expensive.

How Do You Call for Help?

Calling for help is as simple as the click of a button. Every medical alert system comes equipped with a call button, usually outfitted as a pendant or a wristband. These call buttons are also water resistant, which is ideal since many household accidents happen in places with running water, such as the kitchen or bathroom. If you fall or need assistance, simply press the button and emergency representatives will contact you through a speaker on the base station.

Depending on the system, the call button itself might have a microphone. In this case, you can communicate with your emergency responder two-way through your pendant or wristband. In most basic systems, however, the microphone is located in the base station, so depending on how far away you are from it, you won't be able to communicate to your representative. Regardless, when the emergency button is pressed, your emergency representative will dispatch emergency responders to your specific location.

Some systems include features such as automatic fall detection, which has become possible as technology has become more sophisticated. With this feature, you don't have to push a button at all. The alert device will sense when you've had a fall and immediately call an emergency representative to ask if you are okay. In some of the most recent higher-end systems, the accuracy of the fall detection is up to 95 percent.

The call pendant/wristband is usually powered by a battery or can be charged at the base station. Again, this largely depends upon the system you buy and the provider.

How Does Help Find You?

When you sign up with a medical alert company, you give them your name, address, and contact information as part of the contract. When they send you the medical alert system to install in your home, they assign your information to that specific system. That way, when you call for help, the emergency representative automatically knows where the signal is being sent from. They have your address assigned to your system, so they'll know exactly where to send help.

Often, the medical alert companies will ask you for contact information for a close relative or a neighbor as well. This is in case you experience an emergency that may not need medical attention, but maybe just a neighbor to stop by and help you up. Most emergency representatives will ask you who you'd prefer to send over, and some systems are programmed with emergency messages that will automatically be sent to your family and neighbor if you experience an accident.

But what if you're at the store or out on a walk? If you live an active lifestyle, it's recommended that you acquire a GPS-enabled medical alert system as previously mentioned. These are typically more expensive and must be charged every night, but these devices have the ability to pinpoint your exact location wherever you are and provide two-way communication with your medical responder. Most traditional systems will only provide one-way communication.

Ask your medical alert company if your system can travel. If you want to go on vacation, it's best to bring your system to your hotel or vacation home. Some medical alert companies just need a simple phone call of advance notice so they can temporarily change your location.

Where to Start

Now that you know how a medical alert system works, it's best to take a look around. Websites such as Best Company have done the research to find the best medical alert companies in the industry. If you have a loved one that is struggling with age but still wants to live independently, a medical alert system may be a great place to start. Representatives from top companies are happy to answer whatever additional questions you may have about medical alert systems.

The Top Medical Alert Systems Companies

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#1 Medical Guardian chevron_right
9.5 Overall Score
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#2 MobileHelp chevron_right
9.4 Overall Score
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#3 One Call Alert chevron_right
7.8 Overall Score

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