Best of Breed: Medical Alert Systems
As part of our quest to help find the best medical alert system for a specific individual, we are creating this series of "Best of Breed" analyses. In them we do hands-on, detailed, comparison testing of a series of medical alert systems with similar features. These analyses are designed to help us pick a best of breed in each of several different categories of product.
Smartwatch as Medical Alert?
For years we have been hearing older adults complain about how ugly and stigmatizing medical alerts are. As one lady told us: "My medical alert button makes me look like I escaped from the Intensive Care Unit. So I hardly ever wear it".
In 2018 a handful of products came to market that look like smartwatches, and in some cases have some or all of the functionality of stylish smartwatches, but also work as medical alerts. We wanted to see how well they worked, and set out to test them — hoping they might change this dynamic. Here are the results.
Mobile Alert Systems: Comparison Testing
After weeks of testing multiple different "mobile alert systems" (personal emergency response systems), here are the results. We looked at appearance, ease of use, speed to respond when we pressed the "help" button, how well the "location capability" worked in various different locations, battery life, sound quality, price, and more. While none of the products was "perfect", several worked rather well. But some fell short.
Best Medical Alert App: Bake-off
We set out to find the best medical alert app for our Longevity Explorers who wanted to use their smartphone as a medical alert system. We focused on monitored medical alerts, found only three that looked promising enough to test, and did extensive, hands-on, comparison testing. One App emerged as far superior to the others.
How to choose the best medical alert system for you
We believe the quest for the best medical alert system starts with a series of questions about your needs, and then some answers that lead to a choice of a specific "breed" (we call them flavors elsewhere) of medical alert system. Only after figuring out which "breed" is right for you, is it time to dig into the "Best of Breed" analyses above. The place to start with all this is with our Medical Alert Systems: Selection Guide.
(If you are confused about the different terminology, personal emergency response system is an alternate term for what are more commonly known as medical alert systems. These products are also called PERS)
If you know which type (breed) of medical alert device you need, then you can either use our online selection tool to do your own research into which product you want, or you can take a look at our best of breed analyses above.
Why Comparative Evaluation is Key
The Internet is chock full of material about medical alert systems, as it is a fairly large market with a lot of small companies all competing to sell you their products.
You can find numerous "review sites" for this category of product. But almost no actual hands-on testing. In fact, when you read the majority of the "review sites", it seems clear that no-one has actually tested the products at all. And the "reviews" are mostly repurposed marketing material from the companies that make the products.
That is why we initiated this medical alert research project, which resulted in the set of "best of breed" analyses described on this page. We set out to do an independent, objective analysis of how a specific older adult would go about choosing the best medical alert system for their particular circumstance.
We think it is essential to perform actual hands-on testing of these products if one wants to make specific recommendations. But we think you need to go further than that. For each "breed" of medical alert system, we decided what is needed is a sort of comparative evaluation of the most promising products in that category. This way we end up being able to recommend both the best medical alert system in a specific breed, as well as the best medical alert system for a specific person.
If you take a look at the specific best of breed analyses at the top of the page, you will see that each one involves the following steps:
- generating a list of the most promising products in the category ("breed") using various types of desk research;
- acquiring all the most promising products in the category;
- designing a simple research protocol to let us do a comparative evaluation that tests the more important features of the products;
- carrying out actual hands-on testing of the individual products, each with the same protocol, and capturing the results;
- synthesizing what we learned and condensing it into a simple "best medical alert system" report for each breed.
More useful than reviews alone
We do indeed capture our analysis of each specific medical alert and write it up in a review, and you can find our medical alert reviews here.
However, unless you are the sort of person who likes to pore over individual reviews yourself, make a detailed table of comparisons yourself, and then decide which features matter most for the analysis, we think it is far more helpful to have the sort of best of breed comparative analysis we have created here.
Want to know who did the work?
We recommend you start your journey of choosing a medical alert system here.
The team is led by Dr. Richard Caro, PhD physicist and co-author of a recent guide to home sensor systems for older adults.
Our advisory panel contains clinicians and aging services professionals with extensive experience in working with the older adult population that uses these medical alert systems. Professional competencies in the team include social work, physio-therapy, and nursing, and experience operating independent living communities.