Medical Alert Systems: Selection Guide

Medical Alert Systems selection guide

 

Welcome to the Tech-enhanced Life guide to medical alert systems & services for older adults. (These products are also known as personal emergency response systems, or PERS.) 

This guide is designed to help you answer the question: "Which medical alert system is right for me?"

 

If you are looking for independent, objective evaluations of medical alert systems — that include actual hands-on testing — you have come to the right place.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

 

Introduction. How to Use this Guide.

In our research we have found that while there is no one "best medical alert system" for everyone, there are often a handful of systems which are best suited to any given individual.

But which flavor of system matches your needs, and which exact products have those characteristics? And of those, which is "best of breed"?

In this work we have tried to create an independent and objective guide that helps you:

  • understand what types of medical alert systems exist;
  • decide which flavor will be right for a specific individual;
  • sort through the marketing chaff to generate a short list of products that have the right feature set for your needs; and
  • pick the "best of breed" based on independent and objective analysis and testing, supported by clearly explained data.

If you need to buy a medical alert system now, you will want the Selection Tool, as it helps turn a set of desired features into a short list of actual products.

Before using the Selection Tool, you may need to read the section below on "What is a Medical Alert" and follow the links to the lecture or tutorial — to understand what features are likely to matter to you, and which flavors of medical alert system are likely to suit your life situation.

Once you know which types of product you need, you can use the Best of Breed Recommendations to learn which products worked best within a given category. And the individual Medical Alert System Reviews are where we document our testing, and summarize what we learned about individual products.

Sometimes, we get feedback along the lines of "I don't want to become an expert on medical alerts. Just tell me what to buy". In Medical Alerts: Just Tell Me What to Buy" we make specific product recommendations for several individual "personas", so all you need to do to get some specific recommendations is to identify which persona is the best match to the person for whom you are shopping.  

 

 

 

About Our Research

We started evaluating medical alert systems back in 2015, when members of the Tech-enhanced Life community told us they were having great difficulty making sense of the competing marketing claims, and that there seemed to be no objective source of information on the Internet about these products.

In our initial evaluations we acquired, and did in-depth, hands-on evaluation of over 50 medical alert products, and then published our research in the form of this "Selection Guide" and accompanying "Selection Tool" — so others could benefit from our work.

Since 2015 we have updated this research multiple times, and expanded it, and today it represents a rather comprehensive resource for anyone who needs to find the right medical alert for a specific life situation.

 

The people who do the actual evaluations are technologists rather than journalists, and are themselves either older adults or the children of aging parents.

And for our initial research project, we recruited a panel of expert advisors to guide our questions, including 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 advisor panel included social work, physio-therapy, and nursing, and experience operating independent living communities.

 

Independent, Objective

We strive to produce independent and objective research — with a focus on helping older adults and their families. 

Thus, our research is NOT funded by any of the vendors. Nor do we accept sponsored content or allow the medical alert manufacturers or distributors to influence what we write. For our initial research project we acquired all the products at our own expense, without the vendors being aware we were conducting the study. As we subsequently updated our research, we sometimes ask the vendors to loan us the equipment.

We do sometimes use affiliate links, which means that if you purchase products that you learn about on this website, we sometimes receive compensation as a result of being a member of an affiliate program. See How we Fund our Research.

 

Learn More

You can read why we created this guide to medical alert systems, and some testimonials from people who have found it useful here:

Medical Alert Systems: Help!  

 

 

 

What is a Medical Alert System?

A Medical Alert System is an electronic "gadget" that includes some type of button you press, or an automatic sensor that detects you have a problem. When you press the button or the problem is identified, the system somehow sends a message to a "responder" and then that responder takes some action — if necessary summoning help in the form of the emergency services (eg 911).

 

Medical Alert Systems are conceptually simple. You press a button and help comes.

 

But when it comes down to choosing one, it turns out there are quite a few subtleties that one needs to take into account to be sure of choosing the best medical alert for a given person.

Our companion Selection Tool is designed to help make an actual product choice. But to use it well, you really need to know which types of features you actually want.

To get an introduction to the different types of medical alerts, and how to think about what is most important for your specific life situation, learn more using the two pieces of content below:

  • A "tutorial" explaing what medical alert systems do, and the key features; and
  • A video lecture by Dr. Caro explaining what medical alerts do; which features mater most; and how to approach selecting the right one for you.

 

Tutorial: The Basics

 

Recorded Lecture

For most readers, a recording of a lecture (with slides) is a great way to get an overview of the medical alert system topic.

We have a recorded lecture (audio plus slides) of Dr. Richard Caro presenting to a collection of Washington-based "Villages" on: Summoning Help in an Emergency: Devices; Emerging Trends. The focus of the lecture is "How to Choose a Medical Alert".

If you would like to watch this lecture (it's free), sign up at the link below, and we will email you an invite to watch the lecture (online), at a time of your convenience.

 

 

 

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 "category" (we call them flavors elsewhere) of medical alert system.

Only after figuring out which "category" is right for you, is it time to dig into the "Best of Breed" analyses or the "Selection Tool" discussed below. 

(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)

 

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.

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 "category" 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 category, as well as the best medical alert system for a specific person.

When we do a deep dive into one of the subcategories of medical alert — what we call a "best of breed" analysis — we include 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 category.

 

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.

 

Specific Best of Breed Comparisons

Here are some of the most popular "best of breed" analyses.

 

See all the Best of Breed Overviews to Find the "best" within specific sub-categories of medical alert.   

 

 

 

Selection Tool: Choose a Medical Alert

If you already know what features you want in a medical alert system, use the selection tool to turn that list of features into a list of specific products. And access reviews and analysis of those products from our analyst team.

Go To: Selection Tool

Choose the Best Medical Alert System for YOU.

Turn Desired Features into a list of Actual Products.   

 

 

 

Just Tell Me What to Buy!

Some people like to understand all the nuances and then make their own decisions. We designed the Selection Tool (above) with that sort of person in mind.

For those of you whose point of view is "I don't want to become an expert on this stuff. Just tell me what to buy!", we added a section in which we make specific product recommendations for each of several specific personas. So all you need to do is to pick the most relevant persona, and then you can see what we recommend. Of course, you can always go back and broaden your search later with the Selection Tool if you wish.

 

Personas

The bad news is that different types of people really should buy different types of medical alert systems. So there is not "one best medical alert for most people".

The good news is that its pretty easy to group people into some broad "categories" — which we call personas. And for a given persona there are indeed some specific products we recommend.

We created several distinct "personas", as follow:

  • "Go-Go" Persona;
  • "Slow Go" Persona;
  • "No Go" Persona;
  • "Needs Some Care" Persona;
  • "24/7 Care at Home" Persona.

 

Specific Medical Alert Recommendations for Each Persona

Follow the green button below to see detailed descriptions of the personas, and then specific product recommendations for each different persona.

 

Just Tell Me Which Medical Alert to Buy! 

Choose a Persona that matches your situation.

Get specific product recommendations.  

 

 

 

Medical Alert System Reviews

The best way to access the individual reviews of the medical alert systems in this guide, is via the Selection Tool (above). It will let you narrow down your selection using a set of feature selectors, and then you will be able to click through to individual reviews of the products that match your needs.

If you prefer to go straight to the product reviews, follow the green button below. You can also see the reviews for the top ranked medical alert systems if you scroll down.

Go To: Individual Medical Alert Reviews.

Hands-on Evaluation and Testing.

Individual reviews for many different medical alerts.

 

 

 

 


 

Featured Product Reviews

Reviews (In-depth)

 

SOS Smartwatch medical alert

Bay Alarm, SOS Smartwatch

The SOS Smartwatch is one of the "easiest to use" products in the "medical alert watch" category. It functions quite well as a medical alert, looks quite stylish, and has the key smartwatch attributes of telling the time, and step counting.


 

 

WellBe medical Alert Plus

HandsFree Health, WellBe Medical Alert Plus

The WellBe Medical Alert PLUS incorporates the key features of a conventional medical alert into the format of a watch — and includes several smartwatch features as well.


 

 

LifeFone Medical Alert

LifeFone, At-Home & On-the-Go GPS, Voice-In-Pendant

This is a go anywhere mobile alert with fall detection. This is a rebranded version of the Belle+ made by wholesaler Freeus. It has a couple of noteworthy features, in addition to those typical for products in this class.


 

 

Philips Lifeline GoSafe 2

Philips Lifeline, GoSafe 2

"Go anywhere" medical alert product. GoSafe 2 is a stand alone mobile medical alert. Philips Lifeline is a leader in the medical alert system space, with a large number of users. Includes fall detection, 2 way voice through pendant, and waterproof.


 

 

Apple Watch as Medical Alert

Apple Watch as Medical Alert

The Apple Watch is one of several products we compared in a piece of research called "Smartwatch as Medical Alert". This review is about using the Apple Watch with only its native emergency alert software (called Emergency SOS).


 

 

FallCall Lite Medical Alert

FallCall Lite + Apple Watch

The FallCall Lite App (+ Apple Watch) is one of several products we compared in a piece of research called "Smartwatch as Medical Alert". To use this product you start with an Apple watch, and then download an App called FallCall Lite. The App adds the medical alert functionality. Because all the functionality of the Apple watch is still there too, you get the full capability of a smartwatch, plus medical alert capability.


 

 

Lively Mobile Plus Medical Alert pendant

GreatCall, Lively Mobile Plus

The Lively Mobile Plus Medical Alert is one of our top picks in the mobile alert category. It includes fall detection and GPS location capability, and has a number of pluses in addition (see below).


 

 

LifeFone, At-home & On-the-Go: Review

LifeFone, At-home & On-the-Go GPS

The product works both at home and on the go. It does so by having two separate "base stations". One base station stays at home (connects via the cellular connection to the monitoring service), and one is small-ish and can be carried with you (for example in a purse). The mobile base station can...


 

 

Jitterbug Flip2

Lively, Jitterbug Flip2

This is an interestingly different approach to a medical alert. This product is a "senior friendly" cell phone, but it has a button which lets you call the medical alert monitoring service (called 5 star) which is provided by the manufacturer (Lively — previously called GreatCall).


 

 

Medical Guardian Active Guardian

Medical Guardian, Active Guardian

This is a go anywhere mobile alert with fall detection. It is one of the products we reviewed in our comparative evaluation of mobile medical alerts. This is a rebranded version of the Belle+ made by wholesaler Freeus. It has a couple of noteworthy features, in addition to those typical for products in this class.


 

 

Medical Guardian, Mini Guardian

Medical Guardian, Mini Guardian

This is a go anywhere mobile alert with fall detection. It is included in our comparative evaluation of mobile medical alerts. This product was a new entrant to the field in 2020. It is quite similar to its "companion product", the Medical Guardian, Active Guardian in terms of the basic features. However it is smaller and lighter.


 

 

MobileHelp Duo

MobileHelp, Duo

The "MobileHelp Duo" allows for out and about operation using a second mobile base station, but still has small, light pendants with long battery life. 

This product was part of our testing of the best "go anywhere" class of emergency response systems, and is one of our...


 

 

Kanega Watch

UnaliWear, Kanega Watch

The UnaliWear Kanega Watch incorporates the key features of a conventional medical alert into the format of a watch — and tells the time. Unusually for a medical alert watch, it also includes a fall detection algorithm.


 

 

Individual Sections of this Guide

Learning module  |  Selection Tool  |  Best of Breed  |  Medical Alert System Reviews  |  Just Tell Me What to Buy

 

The Medical Alert Email Series & Lecture

Get our series of bite-sized, email insights on medical alerts: 

  • It starts with a recorded overview lecture by Dr. Caro; and
  • Continues with specific advice on how to find the right medical alert product for your life situation.
  • You will also get Tech-enhanced Life's (monthly) newsletter.

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Get "Medical Alert" email series (free).

 

Topic(s): 
Key words: 
medical alert systems

Last Updated: November 22, 2021.