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The Best Medical Alert Systems of 2016

Under the supervision of occupational therapist and independent living expert Megan Driscoll, our research team spent 60 hours reviewing 25 of the most popular medical alert systems across 38 key features to rank the best for 2016. The top three medical alert systems for 2016 are Medical Guardian, Bay Alarm Medical, and LifeFone.

 

Overview of Research

Along with our expert, Megan Elizabeth Driscoll (MOT, OTR/L), our research team spent 60 hours researching and narrowing down over 60 medical alert systems to a final group of 25. We then used key insights from our research to evaluate each system across 38 key features selected for their importance to seniors living independently at home, and also to their families.

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Megan Driscoll

MOT, OTR/L

Megan is an occupational therapist specializing in both orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation. She also has years of experience in elder care and conducting in-home independent living assessments.

We determined the final ranking using a weighted methodology consisting of our 38 key features divided into five core metrics: Basic System Features (30%), Monitoring Services (25%), Premium Features (20%), Company Reputation (15%), and Cost (10%).

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The Best Medical Alert Systems of 2016

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Overall Rank
Overall Rank
Alert System
Alert System
Core Metrics
Rating
Rating
Basic System Features
Basic System Features
Landline Home Connection
Landline Home Connection
Cellular Home Connection
Cellular Home Connection
Mobile Units
Mobile Units
Base to Button Range (feet)
Base to Button Range (feet)
Back-Up Battery Life (hours)
Back-Up Battery Life (hours)
Self-Testing Units
Self-Testing Units
Mobile App or Web Monitoring
Mobile App or Web Monitoring
Remote Phone Answering
Remote Phone Answering
Wearable Options
Wearable Options
Monitoring Services
Monitoring Services
U.S.-Based Call Centers
U.S.-Based Call Centers
In-House Call Centers
In-House Call Centers
Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) Certified Operators
Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) Certified Operators
Number of Supported Languages
Number of Supported Languages
Check-In Service
Check-In Service
Multi-Person Monitoring
Multi-Person Monitoring
Premium Features
Premium Features
Fall Detection
Fall Detection
Fire, Smoke, Carbon Monoxide Monitoring
Fire, Smoke, Carbon Monoxide Monitoring
GPS Monitoring
GPS Monitoring
Available Two-Way Voice Pendants
Available Two-Way Voice Pendants
Wall-Mounted Buttons
Wall-Mounted Buttons
Lockbox
Lockbox
Voice Extender
Voice Extender
Medication Reminders
Medication Reminders
Monitored Pill Dispensing
Monitored Pill Dispensing
Company Reputation
Company Reputation
Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) 5 Diamond Certification
Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) 5 Diamond Certification
UL or ETL LIsted
UL or ETL LIsted
Average Customer Review Score (out of 5)
Average Customer Review Score (out of 5)
BBB Grade
BBB Grade
Company Age (years)
Company Age (years)
Transparency: Number of Data Points Missing From Company Website
Transparency: Number of Data Points Missing From Company Website
Cost
Cost
Monthly Price - Basic
Monthly Price - Basic
Bulk Pay Discount
Bulk Pay Discount
Free Equipment Delivery
Free Equipment Delivery
Long-Term Contracts
Long-Term Contracts
Activation or Installation Fee
Activation or Installation Fee
Equipment Fee
Equipment Fee
Cancellation Fee
Cancellation Fee
Free Trial
Free Trial
Commentary
Editor's Award
Editor's Award
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Methodology

Our expert

Our research was guided by Megan Elizabeth Driscoll, MOT, OTR/L. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Megan is an occupational therapist specializing in both orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation. She is currently a facility director for one of the largest rehab service providers in the state of Pennsylvania, overseeing all occupational and physical therapy. She has years of experience in elder care and routinely performs in-home ergonomic and independent living assessments for both seniors and those with physical disabilities.

How we selected our test group

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, there are an estimated 44.7 million seniors living in America today, a number that represents 14.1% of the total population. Because advances in medicine are increasing overall life expectancy, as the previous generations continue to age well into their later years that population is expected to nearly double by 2050. Statistics also show that more of those seniors live alone at home than ever before.

With that advanced age comes unique medical and safety concerns for those living independently. Medical alert systems exist to address those concerns and also to provide peace of mind for seniors and their families by providing devices that can immediately connect its user with help in the event of an emergency. In order to meet the demand of that aging population, numerous medical alert companies have flooded the marketplace in recent years.

To compile the best rankings, we wanted to focus only on the best. In order to do that, we researched every system currently on the market, and gradually narrowed them down using a strict set of filters.

First, we only ranked systems with nationwide coverage. We eliminated any companies that only served specific states or regions. This ensured that our rankings were relevant to the widest audience of consumers. Second, we only included companies with active monitoring and live call center operators. There are a number of devices that simply dial 911 or a family member when pressed, and nothing more. Those systems were removed from consideration. We also eliminated a handful of companies over either of complete lack of available information, or an excessive number of customer complaints with the Better Business Bureau or on consumer advocacy websites.

There are also several medical alert companies that have been purchased by competitors in recent years. In some cases, they continue to offer an identical system under both company names. We noticed in our research that several existing ranking and review websites still list those companies separately, despite them being a singular product. In those instances, we ranked the two companies as one.

Along those same lines, there are a number of drug stores, wholesale warehouse clubs, and retail chains that sell fully-monitored medical alert systems. However, in many cases, they are one product branded separately for each seller. For example, Coscto MediPendant is simply the MediPendant alert system rebranded and sold “exclusively” in Costco stores. These products are often sold at a special club/store price for a brief initial service period. However once that period expires, renewals are processed through the original service provider at the normal rates. Rather than rank them separately as some websites do, we only reviewed the actual system providers. So in this example, we ranked MediPendant, but eliminated Costco MediPendant from consideration.

This left us with the following 25 medical alert systems to rank:

  • Acadian On Call
  • Alert1/ResponseLINK
  • American Medical Alarms
  • Bay Alarm Medical
  • Care Innovations Link
  • Galaxy Medical Alert Systems
  • GreatCall Splash
  • Guardian Medical Monitoring
  • Life Alert
  • Life Beacon
  • Life Response USA
  • LifeFone
  • LifeStation
  • Medical Care Alert
  • Medical Guardian
  • MediPendant
  • MobileHelp
  • One Call Alert
  • Philips Lifeline
  • Qmedic
  • Rescue Alert
  • Response Now Medical Alert Systems
  • SafeGuardian
  • Senior Safety
  • Walgreens ReadyResponse

How we selected which data to use in our methodology

Our expert guided our research team in identifying 38 key features to grade each alert system by. These features were selected from her professional experience, praises or complaints from thousands of customer reviews, and trends found in our initial research of the medical alert system capabilities.

We then identified five core metrics, assigned various weights, and assigned each feature to the appropriate one.

Here is the breakdown:

Metric 1: Basic System Features (30% of final score)

  • Landline home connection
  • Cellular home connection
  • Mobile units
  • Button-to-base range
  • Base station back-up battery life
  • Self-testing units
  • Wearable button options
  • Remote phone answering
  • Mobile app or web monitoring

Metric 2: Monitoring Services (25% of final score)

  • US-based call center
  • In-house call center
  • Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD)-certified operators
  • Number of supported languages
  • Check-in service
  • Multi-person monitoring

Metric 3: Premium Features (20% of final score)

  • Fall detection
  • Fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide monitoring
  • GPS monitoring
  • Available two-way voice buttons
  • Wall-mounted buttons
  • Lockbox
  • Voice extender
  • Medication reminders
  • Monitored pill dispensing

Metric 4: Company Reputation (15% of final score)

  • Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) 5-Diamond certification
  • UL or ETL listed
  • Customer reviews
  • BBB grade
  • Company age
  • Transparency

Metric 5: Cost (10% of final score)

  • Monthly price – basic
  • Bulk pay discount
  • Free equipment delivery
  • Long-term contracts
  • Activation or installation fee
  • Equipment fee
  • Cancellation fee
  • Free trial

With the exception of customer reviews, all information was sourced directly from each product website.

How we scored our methodology

After grouping the sub-metrics into their core metrics, we assigned each a score of 1-10 for every system reviewed. The final core metric score was averaged from the sub-metric totals.

For example, our #1 overall alert system, Medical Guardian, ranked 2nd in Company Reputation with a score of 8.6. That core metric is made up of six sub-metrics.

Here’s how Medical Guardian scored for each:

  • Central Station Alarm Association certification: 10/10
  • UL or ETL listed: 10/10
  • Customer reviews: 8/10
  • BBB grade: 10/10
  • Company age: 4/10
  • Transparency: 10/10

Once the sub-metrics were averaged, we took each alert system’s core metric scores, applied the weights (as described in the earlier breakdown), and calculated a final ranking.

Understanding Medical Alert System Features

Which features matter and why?

1. Basic System Features back to metric

Very Important

30.00% of our methodology score

At its most basic, a medical alert system is meant to connect its user to immediate help in the event of an emergency. Users wear a pendant that houses a call button. When the button is pressed, a signal is sent to the base station, which quickly connects to a live operator at a monitoring center who can assess the situation and call for emergency services if necessary.

Our basic system features metric measured each system on those simple abilities. This metric is also weighed the heaviest because if a system cannot adequately perform these basic functions, any additional features will be almost meaningless. Plus, the simplest features are traditionally the most used. More complicated systems can be confusing for some senior users, so in many cases simplicity is key.

To score this metric, we looked at each systems connection options, either via a telephone landline or a cellular network. We researched the maximum range at which the buttons can communicate with the base stations, as well as back-up battery life for the base stations in the event of a power outage. We also accounted for additional basic features such as units that will regularly self-test for any technical issues.

Special consideration was given to companies that offered completely mobile systems that can be used anywhere, such as vacations or any trips outside of the home where monitoring could still be necessary.

Highest Scoring Systems in Basic System Features
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2. Monitoring Services back to metric

Very Important

25.00% of our methodology score

In the event of an emergency, a functioning alert system immediately places a call to an emergency operator. That operator’s job is to determine the nature of the emergency and take the appropriate steps, such as dispatching paramedics to the scene or contacting a family member, depending on the situation. The real peace of mind for seniors and their families comes from knowing that in those circumstances, the correct, potentially life-saving actions will be taken, and in a prompt manner. Therefore, our second most important metric measures the quality of the monitoring centers that each system connects to.

Centers with Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certified operators scored higher in our rankings, as they are the most knowledgeable and qualified to make the appropriate decisions during a medical emergency. While we did give high marks to those companies who utilized 100-percent U.S.-based call centers, we gave added consideration to those who operated their own monitoring stations, as opposed to those who contracted to outside firms.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone living in the United States speaks English. Therefore, we also graded each company on the number of languages spoken and translation services available at each center. The companies able to serve the most diverse clients received higher scores than those who served English-language-speakers only.

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3. Premium Features back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

As technology has improved, most medical alert companies now offer a number services beyond the basic help button capabilities of past systems. These features, while not absolutely necessary, cover a wider range of emergencies and can provide even more safety and peace of mind.

For example, with traditional systems, the user must manually push a help button on either the base station or wearable device to alert the monitoring center. However, there can be any number of situations where a user is in the middle of an emergency and unable to place a call on their own, such as a fall that renders them unconscious. Devices with built-in motion sensors can now detect when a wearer falls. If it registers a fall and a manual call is not made within a short, specified time frame, the system will automatically notify the monitoring center. If the operator doesn’t receive a response because the wearer is unconscious or unable to communicate, emergency medical services will be dispatched immediately.

Some systems can also be connected to smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors and automatically place a call once a fire is detected. Devices with GPS monitoring can either be utilized to locate lost wearers or to dispatch emergency services to an exact location outside of the home. Others even include machines that automatically dispense medication on a programmed schedule.

This metric measures all of these premium features along with many others.

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4. Company Reputation back to metric

Somewhat Important

15.00% of our methodology score

Over the past two decades an overwhelming number of medical alert companies have sprung up to meet the demand of a rapidly-increasing elder population. Some of them have merit and provide quality services, while others seem to be simply purchasing and leasing technology to cash in on a trend. This metric measures the overall reputation of each company.

We graded each on industry-specific certifications through outside. The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) is an independent, non-profit organization that develops and enforces strict standards for the medical monitoring industry. To achieve CSAA certification, a station must also be listed (approved) by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL or ETL.

And since customer reviews are one of the best ways to determine the real value of any product, we included the average score from thousands of aggregate reviews. Reviews were sourced from numerous independent consumer review websites such as Consumer Affairs, Trust Pilot, Review Centre, Reevoo, and the BBB.

We also measured each company based on their transparency, an issue that becomes all the more important when marketing to aging seniors. We made note of each of our 38 key features that we weren’t able to find the information of through a company’s website. Most often that hidden information had to do with cost, contracts, and cancellation. Too often, that information was given by telephone quote only, and even then it was during a high-pressure sell for a longer contract with questionable terms.

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5. Cost back to metric

Somewhat Important

10.00% of our methodology score

Cost is our least heavily-weighted of all of our metrics because it is a difficult one to grade each alert system on alone. With such a wide range of system offerings, number of additional costly features, and variety of different pricing terms from each individual company, there isn’t much of a set price to measure each against. However, cost is still an important factor in any purchasing decision, especially one with the health and safety ramifications of a medical alert system.

Therefore, to measure the general monetary impact of each system, we started by comparing the monthly price for the most basic service offered by each company. Premium features and services will drive that cost up in all of those cases, but each package starts from that basic point. From there, we graded on other financial factors such as activation, installation, and equipment charges. We also researched the contract terms of each system and any cancellation fees involved. We gave higher marks to companies with free trial periods and money back guarantees that allow customers to test the service before fully investing in it.

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Editor's Awards

Industry-leading monitoring centers, great basic service features, and a solid reputation make Medical Guardian the best medial alert system for 2016.

While still a relatively new company compared to much of the market, Medical Guardian has all of the highly-rated basic service features of their established competitors and a reputation that surpasses even some of the longest-standing companies. But where they stand out the most is in their monitoring centers.

Medical Guardian received perfect scores in our Monitoring Services metric. Their U.S-based, in-house call centers are CSAA 5-Diamond certified and UL listed. All of their operators are also EMD certified. Translation services allow those operators to assist customers in over 200 languages. They also offer check-in services and will monitor multiple users on a single system, which is highly beneficial for senior couples living together.

They are missing some of the premium features we would have liked to see, such as fire and smoke detection and medication dispensing. However, the services they do offer are guaranteed to be of the highest quality and at a cost that rivals most of their competitors.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited premium features

Ranking Results:

  • Basic System Features – 8.2/10
  • Monitoring Services – 10/10
  • Premium Features – 6.4/10
  • Company Reputation – 8.6/10
  • Cost – 8.2/10



Our first runner-up, Bay Alarm Medical, is also one of the oldest companies in our rankings, a fact that is reflected in their top reputation score.

Of all the medical alert systems reviewed, none were more straightforward in their pricing and disclosing all other information that Bay Alarm Medical. That perfect transparency score, and the experience that comes from their 65 years in the alarm business, pushed them to the top of our reputation metric. Their basic service equipment is highly-rated and the only premium feature they don’t offer is medication reminders and monitored pill dispensing. They are perhaps the most well-rounded of all of the companies we reviewed.

Their scores on a single sub-metric in each category were all that prevented them from taking the overall spot, such as charging for shipping, and outsourcing their call centers (though they are still U.S.-based). With the smallest margin or improvement (or an equally small drop in the offerings of a competitor), Bay Alarm Medical could easily be the top overall pick in next year’s rankings.

Drawbacks:

  • Outsourced call centers
  • No medication reminders or pill dispensing
  • Equipment shipping fees

Ranking Results:

  • Basic System Features – 8/10
  • Monitoring Services – 7/10
  • Premium Features – 8/10
  • Company Reputation – 9.6/10
  • Cost – 8.2/10



LifeFone has the service quality and feature offerings of many of the top medical alarm companies, but at prices and terms that may make them a more attractive option than their competitors.

Second runner-up, LifeFone, is missing a few of the premium features of some of the other top companies, finishing fifth in that particular metric. However, their basic service features are very solid and they come at prices and terms that best all of the competition.

LifeFone has one of the lowest starting prices at $24.95 a month. They also offer a bulk pay discount, so that price gets even lower if customers opt for a quarterly or annual plan and pay in advance. They have free shipping, and no activation, installation, or equipment charges. And since there are no contracts, there are also no cancellation fees. Any customers that prepaid a quarterly or annual plan and cancel their service before that time, they are reimbursed a prorated rate for all unused service. Several companies in our review claim no cancellation charges, but do not refund prepaid service fees.

If you’re looking for a solid, basic alert system with highly-rated monitoring services, LifeFone’s price alone makes them worth considering.

Drawbacks:

  • No two-way voice pendants or voice extenders
  • No medication reminders or dispensing

Ranking Results:

  • Basic System Features – 7.6/10
  • Monitoring Services – 8.6/10
  • Premium Features – 6.4/10
  • Company Reputation – 8.2/10
  • Cost – 9.8/10



Philips Lifeline

Philips Lifeline has the best basic service features and device offerings of any medical alert system.

As a company, Philips has been a leader in the technology industry for 125 years. So, it comes as no surprise that their medical alert devices are the best in the industry. They hit all of the key features with their basic service offerings.

Their base landline system does have slightly below-average range between its base and pendants. However, it makes up for that in the fact that their landline is one of the few that works with VOIP telephone services. That same device also allows for remote phone answering utilizing its call buttons and base speaker should a call come in over the line that the system is attached to, which is convenient for seniors with mobility issues who may find it difficult to reach the telephone in a hurry.

And for those tech-savvy seniors, Philips also offers all of their LifeLine response services in a single-button mobile app compatible with iOS and Android. The app utilizes the phone’s cellular, data, Wi-Fi, and GPS signals to deliver emergency services, if needed, to wherever the user may be.

Drawbacks:

  • No call center certifications
  • Shipping charges and activation fees

Ranking Results:

  • Basic System Features – 8.6/10
  • Monitoring Services – 7.4/10
  • Premium Features – 7.4/10
  • Company Reputation – 5.8/10
  • Cost – 6.6/10



Guardian Medical Monitoring

Offering nearly every available premium feature, Guardian Medical Monitoring has an option to meet almost any medical alert need.

Guardian Medical Monitoring had the most premium feature offerings of any alert system that we reviewed. However, we’re unsure of what those features will cost the user. Guardian Medical was one of the few companies with no pricing information listed on their website. All prices were given by quote only, which itself was difficult to obtain. A call to the company led to an aggressive sales pitch, after which the basic pricing structure was still unclear.

That aspect of their company bled over into their reputation metric, as they had an extremely low customer review score. Below average scores in the remaining metrics led to mid-range score overall, which is unfortunate because their feature offerings are unmatched by their competitors.

Drawbacks:

  • Limited range and battery life on base units
  • No check-in service or multi-person monitoring
  • No CSAA certification
  • No available cost information; by quote only

Ranking Results:

  • Basic System Features – 5.8/10
  • Monitoring Services – 4.6/10
  • Premium Features – 9.2/10
  • Company Reputation – 4.2/10
  • Cost – 1/10

Last Updated on August 5, 2016

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