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Important Things to Know Before Choosing a Medical Alert System

McCall Robison
McCall Robison | Senior Editor

There are many things to consider when buying a medical alert system — after all, this system will be the lifeline for your loved one living alone and having a hard time getting around. You want to make sure that you're getting the best quality with the most versatile features while not cutting corners. Many businesses are poised and ready to sell you a medical alert system with monthly monitoring, but here are some things that will be good to know in the process.

Medical alert system basics

Just about every medical alert service functions with the same medical devices: a base station, an emergency button worn as a pendant or wristband, and a 24/7 monitoring center. Some more advanced medical alert pendants include features such as fall detection and built-in two-way communication, but these emergency systems are typically more expensive. All of these work together to provide you with peace of mind and safety.

The base station contains your personal contact information that will relay your name and address to a medical professional when you activate your alert button. The system plugs into your wall outlet and should sit on a table or other flat surface nearby. Depending on the system, it could be ready to go at this point or you may have to plug it into a landline connection. Landline connections are cheaper, but cellular out-of-the-box systems are more convenient. Most medical alert systems include a backup battery in the case of a power outage. 

Your emergency button is the device that you should have on you at all times. If it's a mobile medical alert device, you will likely need to charge it daily to make sure it has enough battery life to last you. Usually, the medical alert button is outfitted with a pendant or wristband. It is also water resistant so it can be worn in the shower or while you're doing dishes or cleaning. If you experience a fall or another emergency, press the emergency button and it will send a signal to the base unit that you've experienced an emergency. From that point, the base unit will send a signal to a remote monitoring station who will then contact emergency responders if necessary.

In-home and mobile systems

Due to their limited range, in-home medical alert systems are noticeably cheaper than mobile medical alert systems. They're manufactured for seniors that hardly ever leave the comfort of their home. The range of the base station isn't farther than 600 feet on average, meaning that the base station will lose communication with the emergency pendant if it goes beyond that. If your loved one is a homebody who isn't going to make too many trips out of the house, you'll be just fine with one of these.

On the other hand, if your loved one is living an active lifestyle and wants the freedom of going anywhere, a mobile medical alert system is going to be the best option. These usually cost anywhere from $15 to $25 per month extra depending on the company and package. These systems have a limited battery life and need to be recharged every night, but can be tracked anywhere through the built-in GPS technology. If your loved one wants to take the emergency button on a walk in the park or weekly grocery trip, that's no problem at all. If there is an emergency, just a press of the panic button will summon emergency personnel who will be able to pinpoint the exact location via GPS tracking coordinates. Mobile medical alert systems are often managed through a cellular network for better coverage.


Any medical alert company worth its salt will have your station monitored by a monitoring station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This means that you should have the peace of mind of pushing the panic button and having someone available at all times. Also, look for certifications. Two important names are Underwriters Laboratories and The Monitoring Association (formerly the Central Station Alarm Association). Underwriters Laboratories tests safety equipment such as home security and medical alert equipment to make sure it is properly manufactured, and the organization also certifies monitoring stations for quality. A monitoring station specially certified by The Monitoring Association serves as a badge of reputability, so if a company has monitoring stations certified by either of these organizations, they're doing something right.


The shorter the contract, the better. Top tier medical alert companies will operate on a month-to-month basis, so there is virtually no contract to deal with and no cancellation fees. Whenever you feel like canceling your service, you should be able to contact your company representative, ship back the system, and get your refund without a problem. However, be wary of companies that try to rope you into a long-term contract. If you end up signing a long-term contract and decide you don't need the system after a few months, you're stuck with it and the pricing you agreed upon when signing the contract. And if you insist on returning it, you might be forced to buy out of your contract, which could cost you hundreds of dollars. Make sure you do your due diligence and ask your company representative specific questions about contract terms. You could be saving yourself hundreds of dollars and huge headaches in the long run.

Activation and equipment fees

Some medical alert companies will offer a low monthly rate, but charge you a substantial one-time payment in the form of an installation fee or activation fee to offset those low prices. When this is the case, a company won't post anything on their website regarding installation or activation fees. When you talk with a representative, make sure to ask about installation and activation fees. Aside from the costs, it could take time out of your day that you could be spending elsewhere to stay home while a professional comes over and installs your system. Our findings show that top medical alert companies with high customer satisfaction typically don't charge any kind of equipment fee or activation fee, so make sure to read reviews to see what other customers are saying.


Most medical alert companies will offer some kind of warranty on their equipment. Usually, it's a limited warranty for one or two years, but top companies almost always have a lifetime warranty on equipment. This means if anything arrives defective or degrades over time, you should be able to get it replaced free of charge. This is another thing you'll want to ask your company representative about before you sign on the dotted line. Make sure you know the specifics of the warranty information before you make any final decisions. Also, be sure your chosen medical alert device is water resistant before getting it wet, as not all medical alert devices are meant to be waterproof, and the warranty might not cover water damage. 

How do medical alert systems work?

Medical alert systems function with a base unit, an emergency call pendant/bracelet, and a monitoring station. Depending on the package you order, the medical alert system will function either as an in-home unit or a mobile unit. If you experience a fall or other medical emergency, you can push the panic button on your pendant/bracelet and it will relay a signal to the base unit. The base unit then sends a signal to a remote monitoring station where certified representatives contact you to see if you're alright. If you need help or if they can't hear you, they dispatch emergency personnel to go to your house. There isn't any extra cost for how many times you push the button — just pay a monthly fee.

How can I tell if I need a medical alert system?

You're probably asking if a medical alert system is even necessary right now. It's true that you might not even need a medical alert system for your loved one, but you should ask yourself a few questions first. Is your loved one over 65 years old? Does your loved one have a hard time moving, including standing up or walking? Does your loved one live alone? Does your loved one have trouble seeing or hearing? Does your loved one suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis?

If you answered yes to more than two of these questions, a medical alert system should be a serious consideration.

What should I know about medical alert system contracts?

Most of the best medical alert companies in the business will shy away from long-term contracts and instead offer contracts that operate from month to month. Some companies will give you the option to reduce your monthly payment if you commit to a quarter or a year of service, but you might have to buy out of these contracts if you decide you want to prematurely return the system.

Also, keep your eyes peeled regarding warranties. The best medical alert companies will offer full lifetime warranties on their equipment so you can return anything if it's defective or if it breaks. Some companies will ask for inexpensive restocking fees or require you to pay shipping, so make sure you have ample time to read the terms and commitments before you sign any contract.

What's the difference between a mobile and in-home system?

Truthfully, there are multiple kinds of medical alert systems, but mobile and in-home systems are the most common. An in-home system will communicate to the monitoring station through a landline, cellular, or Wi-Fi signal when the emergency button is pressed. The alert pendant will only have a range of a few hundred feet from the base station, so it's not ideal if your loved one spends significant time out of the house.

In contrast, mobile systems communicate with monitoring centers with a cellular connection. Most of these systems also have GPS locating capabilities, so you can take your medical alert device just about anywhere. When you press the alert button, it will send the alert signal to a monitoring station and transmit your coordinates to emergency personnel so they'll know your exact location. These systems do need to be recharged daily, however. Both in-home and mobile medical alert systems also typically come with two-way communication capabilities.

How do I talk to my loved one about medical alert systems?

It can be difficult to discuss getting a medical alert system with loved ones because, to them, it can feel like a loss of independence. But this simply isn't true. A medical alert system is a way to reinforce their independence and save money instead of paying for expensive in-home care or a retirement home. Aging is inevitable, but a medical alert device is a way to make it easier and safer for those who only want a helping hand when they absolutely need it.

What is the best medical alert company?

The best medical alert company is ranked according to our criteria and customer reviews. Usually, the company with the most positive user reviews is ranked number one at Best Company, but this isn't always the case. Our criteria at Best Company involves which company scores best in regards to price, equipment fees, activation fees, contract lengths, warranties, and device range. The most important thing is that consumers get quality products and reliable services while saving money, so when you pick the top-ranked company at Best Company, you can feel confident that you're getting high-quality products and great customer service.

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