How to Choose a Medical Alert System

Choosing the best medical alert system for you requires you to think about your activity level, budget, home size, and health risks. We recommend taking your time and exploring your options when you start the process. The best medical alert systems are flexible enough to fit most lifestyles.

Whatever alert system you choose, it needs to be comfortable, easy to use, and convenient enough for you to have nearby 24/7.

Video: What to look for in a medical alert system

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Choosing an in-home vs. mobile medical alert system

Who needs an in-home medical alert system?

An in-home system is best for older adults who don’t venture outside much. These individuals typically have caregivers who shop for them or escort them to appointments. They’re rarely alone when they’re in public, but they do spend time alone at home.

Who needs a mobile medical alert system?

A mobile system is typically used by older adults who do go outside by themselves, whether it’s to go shopping, head to appointments, walk through the park, or tend to their garden. Mobile systems are also a smart accessory for people who might wander away from home.

Who needs both?

Consider both an in-home and a mobile medical alert system for spouses or partners who have different levels of mobility. One can take the mobile device when they run errands, and the other can rely on the in-home system while they’re alone. 

If you’d like to have both a mobile and in-home system but can only afford one, choose the mobile system. Wear it all day and charge it on your bedside table at night.

In-home medical alert system features to consider

1. Landline or cellular connection

Once you’ve decided you want an in-home system, you’ll need to choose between a landline system and a cellular system. 

Landline systems are always more affordable. They’re also more reliable in areas of the country that get poor cellular coverage. 

Cellular systems are easier to set up. The choice really comes down to available infrastructure and personal preference.

2. Signal range

The wearable help buttons must be close to the base station to communicate with it. If you have a large home, it’s important to get a system that you can use in every room. We’ve encountered signal ranges as short as 200 feet and as long as 1,400 feet.  

Take range claims with a grain of salt, though. Medical alert companies measure signal ranges in “open field” tests. This means there are no obstructions—like walls—weakening the signal. Signal ranges tend to be shorter once the system is set up in a home. 

LifeFone, Medical Guardian, and MobileHelp advertise the longest signal ranges in the industry. 

3. Extra buttons and accessories

Consider buying extra buttons and accessories for an in-home system if your home is quite large or there’s a possibility you’ll forget to wear the pendant. 

  • Wall buttons are placed in areas where you might fall, such as within reach of the bathtub or at the bottom of a staircase. You can also put extras in areas where you like to spend time, such as a sun room. 
  • Voice-activated buttons are alternative to standard wall buttons. They’re more versatile because you don’t have to be within reach to activate them—just say the wake word a few times. 
  • A voice extender is a second speaker/microphone for the system, making it easier to communicate with the monitoring center in a larger home. 


Compare the accessories of top medical alert brands

Info as of post date. Offers may vary by location and are subject to change.

4. Automatic fall detection

Automatic fall detection is available as an add-on for most in-home and mobile medical alert devices. It typically costs an extra $10 per month.

This technology is best for people who spend time alone and are at an increased risk of falls due to their medical history, including medication side effects. 

Other than cost, there’s no downside to having a fall detection device. If you’re on the fence about getting one, talk to your doctor to evaluate your fall risk. 

Notable companies that do not offer an in-home fall detection option include Life Alert, GetSafe, Lifenet, and QMedic. Learn about those that do in our review of the best medical alerts with fall detection.

5. Panic button battery replacements

Wearable help buttons contain batteries that last at least three years. Some companies track the button’s battery life and send you a replacement for free. Others tell you it’s time to buy a new button and charge for the replacement.  

Most of the medical alert companies we’ve reviewed go the free route. Bay Alarm Medical, GetSafe, and Aloe Care do not

In the grand scheme of things, this feature isn’t really a game-changer. You're looking at an extra $35 (typically) every three to five years. But it’s definitely good to be aware of each company's policy so you know what to expect.

6. Extra caregiver features

Some companies provide a smartphone app that keeps loved ones up-to-date on all emergency calls, battery alerts, first movements of the day, and more. These apps are either included in the plan or available for an extra monthly fee. We really like Aloe Care's app.

Sometimes you can pay for extra caregiving features, like daily check-in calls from the monitoring center or medication reminders. 

Mobile medical alert system features to look for

1. A standalone device

The best mobile medical alert systems have their own speaker and microphone for two-way communication with the monitoring center. A few devices on the market require you to talk through your smartphone instead.

It’s much easier to keep track of one device rather than two, so we recommend medical alerts that don’t depend on a cell phone.  

2. Location tracking technology

Location tracking is available in every mobile medical alert device we’ve come across, but they’re not all created equal.

For example, some medical alert companies do not allow caregivers or loved ones to see the device’s location. If check-ins will give you peace of mind, look for a brand with a caregiver app that includes real-time location tracking.

Some mobile medical alerts also use limited location tracking technology. Devices that combine GPS, Wi-Fi, and 4G cellular technology tend to give the most accurate results. 

Check out our recommended best medical alerts with GPS for more information.

3. Long battery life

We recommend charging mobile medical alerts every night to prevent a low battery crisis. But a long battery life comes in handy if there’s a chance your loved one will wander from home, forget to charge the device, or lose it.

Battery life decreases if the device includes fall detection or if someone uses the location tracking app too often. 

The maximum battery life for most mobile alerts with fall detection is 3 to 5 days. Without fall detection, some mobile systems last between 15 and 30 days on a single charge.

We’ve highlighted medical alerts with the best battery life in a separate post.

4. Cellular network coverage

There are a few pockets of the country that get cellular coverage from either AT&T or Verizon, but not both. It’s critical to choose a mobile medical alert device that’s compatible with your local cellular network.

Most medical alert companies sell devices that work with the AT&T 4G network. If you require a Verizon-compatible device, we recommend LifeFone or Medical Care Alert.  

Medical alert costs: What can you afford?

The cost of a medical alert system may limit your selection. Expect to pay out of pocket, since most Medicare plans don’t cover medical alert devices

Decide what your monthly budget is and how much you're willing to spend upfront on equipment and activation fees. There’s a lot to consider, so we’ll break it down for you and suggest companies along the way.

Leasing vs. buying your medical alert devices

If you don’t have much to spend up front, you may want to lease your medical alert devices rather than buy them outright. 

Just try not to lose, drop, or otherwise damage the equipment—you’ll be expected to pay anywhere between $250 and $600 for it once you cancel the service if it’s not returned in tip-top condition. 

Most medical alert companies lease out their in-home systems, but it’s a little harder to find mobile devices available for lease. Try LifeFone or MobileHelp. 

There’s a catch, though: you’ll pay less per month if you buy mobile devices up front from a company like Aloe Care or Bay Alarm Medical. Check out the comparison table below to compare the short-term and long-term costs of mobile devices that are bought vs. leased.

Avoiding extra fees

Watch out for extra fees when enrolling in a service plan. 

  • Activation fees run between $35 and $50.
  • Installation fees may cost between $20 and $100. (To be fair, we’ve seen only one company actually charge an installation fee—Philips Lifeline.)
  • Shipping fees usually vary by location, but some companies charge a flat rate. Expect to pay between $10 and $20.

You’ll also come across optional upcharges during the checkout process. Make sure you remove or decline anything you don’t want to pay for. We’ll go into more detail about choosing the best accessories and services below, but for now, be aware that companies may ask you to enroll in an extended warranty plan for $1 to $7 per month.

Finally, be prepared for cancellation costs. 

  • Cancellation or restocking fees may cost an extra $35 to $50.
  • Return shipping is an out-of-pocket expense.  
  • Lost or damaged equipment fees—which only apply to leased equipment—tend to cost between $250 and $600

Lifenet and Aloe Care have some of the most straightforward pricing structures on the market.

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Discounts happen—just ask!

Every medical alert company is different, but many of them offer discounts or can adjust prices based on your situation. Discounts are commonly given to veterans, lower-income folks, and people with multiple customers in a household. All you have to do is ask the customer service rep when you call.

How to lower medical alert costs

  • Pick one-time fees: If you want wall buttons, choose a company that charges a one-time fee for them rather than a monthly fee. It costs less in the long run. Try LifeFone, Medical Care Alert, or GetSafe.
  • Opt for mobile: Rather than getting an in-home system and a mobile system, get a mobile system and wear it around the house. 
  • DIY your form: Don’t pay for a Vial of Life add-on. Print your own Vial of Life form for free on the Vial of Life website.
  • Negotiate: Once you know what equipment you want, pick up the phone and talk to a sales rep. You may be able to negotiate a discount. For example, Philips Lifeline may waive its activation and shipping costs (a $70 value) if you call with questions.
  • Evaluate risks: Talk to your loved ones and doctor to evaluate your risk before choosing add-ons like fall detection, GPS tracking apps, and extended warranties. 
  • Find spouse discounts: Look for companies that offer free or discounted spouse coverage rather than registering your spouse as a separate customer. Try Bay Alarm Medical, Medical Guardian, LifeFone, or Medical Care Alert.

Taking the medical alert for a test run

Once you’ve chosen a medical alert system, set it up and test it. Every medical alert company encourages this—you won't get fined for a false alarm. Once the monitor connects, tell them you’re testing the equipment. They’ll confirm your address and disconnect. No sweat!

Evaluate the following when testing your equipment:

  • Audio quality and volume
  • Answer speed 
  • Monitor clarity and friendliness
  • Ease of voice activation (if applicable)
  • Signal range (some systems have a separate range test you can do)

If you’re unhappy with any of the above, let the company know. You can either get a refund or ask for a new piece of equipment. It’s better to work out these kinks before an emergency. Plus, testing the equipment builds confidence and makes it easier to use when it counts.  

FAQ

There isn't one answer to this, but we recommend you be proactive, not reactive.

If you notice your parents or loved ones are struggling with mobility or cognitive functions, consider finding a basic system they can use. To gauge their comfort level, learn how to talk to your parents about medical alert systems before buying.

Of course. When you add yourself as an emergency contact, you’ll be the second person monitoring professionals will contact (after emergency services). They can give you details about what happened and guide you on what to do next.

Yes, but they aren’t usually advertised. When you find a medical alert system you’re interested in, give them a call and ask their sales reps about what’s available. Veteran discounts, membership discounts, and discounts for lower incomes are pretty common across the board.

Yes, through the professional monitoring center connected to the alert device. When a user presses the SOS button, monitoring pros on the other side will contact them to find out what happened. If the emergency calls for it, they will send emergency services to your loved one at their location.

Smartphones and smart speakers are both great tools, but they aren’t as reliable as medical alert systems. Smartphones aren’t always handy and nearby (like in the shower or the car). And while smart speakers can call contacts on your phone, they can’t call 911.

Smart home devices can help seniors with reminders, automations, and remote control for those with mobility issues.


Compare the best medical alert systems

Brand
Best for
Lowest monthly price
In-home range
Backup battery
Landline option available
Learn more
Read review
Best overall1000 ft.32 hrs.
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best for fall detection400 ft.Not available
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best value1300 ft.32 hrs.
Icon No  LightNo
Best GPS tracking options1300 ft.32 hrs.
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best smart features200 ft.6 hrs.
Icon No  LightNo
Best basic system1400 ft.24 hrs.
Icon No  LightNo

Data as of post date. Offers and availability subject to change.

Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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