Medical alert systems (or personal emergency response systems) are wonderful devices that allow older adults the opportunity to stay in their homes (more safely) and remain as independent as possible. Keeping up with this new technology is difficult, and knowing the right questions to ask is even more difficult! If you haven’t seen our summary of the medical alert system, you should refer to it and provide feedback (especially if you have had experience with any of the featured manufacturers). The current focus on medical alert systems is aptly titled Top 10 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Medical Alert Systems. So without further ado … Here’s our top 10 list (drum roll, please):
1. Does this medical alert system work with VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone services? If you have cable from Comcast or Verizon at home, you are probably using them for your (home) phone service as well. If that’s the case, you are likely using a VOIP plan (just like we do with Vonage, another major VOIP provider). Many of the traditional medical alert system providers recommend checking with your home telephone provider (VOIP) to see if they offer local 911 (and other) services. So keep this in mind and ask *. (* Note: Alert system providers will know their compatibility with major telephone service providers).
two. What is the scope of my alert system? MOST major medical alert system vendors have the following components included in their “systems.” A base station and a pendant of some kind (necklace – worn around the neck, belt clip, or a device similar to a wristwatch. The myHalo system even has a chest strap). MOST pendants need to communicate (wirelessly) with a base station that is connected to your home phone line. So you need to know the range of that pendant to the base station. Typically, this range covers most normal-size homes and is in the 400 to 600-foot neighborhood. After installation, be sure to test the range inside (and outside) the house.
3. Does someone install this for me or do I do it myself? Many manufacturers have sales / marketing representatives who will come to your home and install / test the system for you. They usually charge a one-time setup fee for this service, so ask about that fee in advance! If all they do is send you the alert system, make sure there is enough literature (online and offline) for help with setup and testing. Always TEST your medical alert system before use.
Four. Do I need a landline to use this medical alert system? In most cases, the answer will be YES, but there are some exceptions. For example, the MobileHelp medical alert system has a small handheld device that connects to AT&T Wireless for use outside the home (anywhere covered by AT&T). However, to use your pendant device (small necklace) around the house, you still need a landline phone. Additionally, Wellcore’s Personal Emergency Response System has the ability to interact with some cell phones to extend the range of your device outside of the home.
5. Who works in your call center, where are they located, and what are the average response times? Well, this is a bit of a tricky question, because call center “outsourcing” has been a trend that many, many companies take advantage of. Frankly, I have found great service in call centers around the world, and the only thing to be careful about here is PERFORMANCE.
6. Does the medical alert system come with other services? Some medical alert systems come with additional services like medication reminders, glucose monitoring reminders, and the like. It is good to know what other services can be included with the purchase of your services, so be sure to ask what is included.
7. What happens if something goes wrong with my equipment? Most of us hate reading the fine print. I challenge anyone to read the “terms and conditions” of the 5 or 6 medical alert devices they want to evaluate (it gives me a headache to even think about doing it again). So in mind, I would encourage anyone making a decision on a particular device to ask; What if your system crashes? Does someone come out to fix it? Will you get another one as soon as possible? Do you need to bring back the dysfunctional system? etc. Also, another point … when you’ve narrowed down your choice, read the fine print by looking for the particular provider’s terms and conditions on their websites.
8. Does the medical alert system include “automatic fall detection”? Medical alert systems have come a long way in the last 5 years. Today’s advanced systems can detect when a user has fallen automatically. It’s all in advanced algorithms developed by brilliant engineers and built into tiny devices that save lives every day. These smart systems can distinguish (in most cases) between when someone has actually fallen and when someone has abruptly decided to sit down. The “big three” that (currently) offer automatic fall detection are Halo monitoring systems, Wellcore personal emergency response and Philips lifeline with automatic alert.
9. Am I buying these devices, or renting them, or neither? Go back to my previous tip on reading the fine print … Find out (ahead of time) if the gear is yours or not. What if you no longer need the equipment? What happens if you damage the equipment?
10. What is my total annual cost? This comes down to the “bronze tax” … How much does this cost me each year (total cash out)? Enough talk.