Medical Alert System FAQ's - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know


At we really believe in the benefit of medical alert systems. The challenge of course is making sure you get the right system for yourself or a loved one. We want to help you make the right choice. It's easier than you might think.

Over the years we've been asked a lot of questions about medical alert systems from our readers, family members and professional caregivers. So we decided it might be helpful if we put those questions and answers in one place. Hopefully it makes it a little easier for you to make an informed decision.

The What & Why of Medical Alert Systems

What is a medical alert system and how does it work?

Medical alert systems are devices with help buttons that, when pressed or activated, call a medical monitoring center for assistance in the event of a fall or medical emergency. The help button can be worn on your wrist like a watch or around your neck, as a pendant. There are two types of medical alert systems, indoor systems and mobile systems.

How does a medical alert system work?

You simply press the help button on your wrist or around your neck and it automatically calls the medical monitoring center in seconds. If able, you can talk to and explain your situation to the trained staff through the 2 way speaker. Depending on the situation, staff will then either dispatch emergency responders or call a caregiver. Family will be notified if emergency responders are sent. If you're unable to speak, emergency responders will automatically be sent.

Who should get a medical alert system?

Medical alert systems are recommended for anyone who's worried about falling, has health issues or feels insecure about not being able to call for help in the event of an emergency. For many, it gives them the confidence to remain active, in and outside the home, even while living alone.

Medical alert systems also provide comfort to caregivers who want to make sure their parents or spouse can access help, even when they're not around. It gives them peace of mind and the freedom to leave their loved one alone without worry.

What are the leading reasons people get a medical alert system?

Our surveys show that the leading reasons people get a medical alert system are concern about falling or a medical emergency, worry about living alone, searching for peace of mind or looking to delay moving to a supervised adult community.

Many times those who get a medical alert system had a recent hospitalization, stroke, heart attack or joint replacement, or they suffer from cancer, arthritis, COPD, Parkinsons, dementia, hypertension, vertigo, neuropathy, or seizures.

Why are medical alert systems recommended to seniors living alone?

Seniors are at higher risk of injury than the general population. Nearly 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 will have a fall each year. Every 35 minutes a senior's injury leads to a death. Getting help in a timely manner is critical to reducing the severity of the injury, avoiding permanent loss of independence and increasing the chances of full recovery.

Why not use a cell phone instead of a medical alert system?

The first problem with a phone, is that if you fall and unable to get up, in all likelihood you won't be able to access a phone from the floor.

Second, medical alert systems can automatically detect falls and call for help, even if you blackout and can't call for help yourself. Phones can't do that for you.

Third, if you're having a heart attack, tremors or a seizure or you have poor vision or arthritis, you may not be able to use a phone, especially when under duress. Finding and pressing the emergency button on your wrist or around your neck is relatively easy.

Fourth, many medical alert companies will keep a record of your medications and health conditions and be able to provide it to emergency responders.

Lastly, many medical alert companies include a lock box and give the code to emergency responders so they can let themselves in without breaking down the door or losing precious time.

Why not use a digital voice assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Home?

Digital voice assistants have a lot of promise. However, we don't believe they can replace medical alert systems just yet.

First, they don't come with automatic fall detection. So if you fall and blackout, neither Alexa nor Google Home will call for help on your behalf. Second, you'd have to have a speaker in multiple rooms, especially the shower, where many falls take place. Third, we're not confident in a state of panic, confusion or physical weakness it will be easy to be heard or understood by Alexa or Google Home. Fourth, digital voice assistants don't protect you outside of the home.

Why should I get a mobile medical alert system?

If you need protection or want quick access to help outside your home, a mobile medical alert system with GPS is a great solution. Also, if your loved one wanders outside their home or gets disoriented, a mobile medical alert system with GPS tracking can be very helpful to locate them.

Why should I NOT get a mobile medical alert system?

Reasons people don't get a mobile medical alert system are because it's more expensive, they are typically with someone when they leave their home, they don't like the idea or can't be trusted to recharge their mobile system every few days, they don't have good wireless network coverage in their area or they don't like the look or feel of the mobile pendant.

What happens if I press the help button and can't talk?

If the medical monitoring staff are unable to speak with you after you've pressed the button, they will assume it's an emergency and send an ambulance.

What happens if I fall, and I'm unable to press the help button due to loss of consciousness or injury?

If you have automatic fall detection, the medical alert system will automatically call the medical monitoring center. They will try to establish verbal contact with you, and if they are unable, they will send an ambulance to your home.

Who shows up to my house when the button is pressed?

Staff at the medical monitoring center can dispatch anyone listed on the protocol established when you set-up your profile, in any order or combination, whether it be a spouse, children, siblings, caregiver, landlord or neighbor. If the situation calls for it, staff may also decide to send an ambulance, police or fire truck.

If I'm taken by ambulance, how will my family be notified?

When you set-up your profile, you can typically provide a list of contacts you would like to be notified in the event of an emergency. All of those, or some of those, contacts can be contacted in the event emergency response is sent to your home, so they can either meet you at your house or the hospital.

How do emergency responders, or other listed contacts, enter my home if I can't let them in?

Many medical alert companies offer a lock box with their service. A lock box would hold the key to your front or back door, and would open via a code. Staff from the medical monitoring center would then convey the location and code of the lock box to the EMT's, avoiding the door being broken down.

How do emergency responders know my medical history?

When you set-up your profile with your medical alert company, you can provide them with a list of medications your taking and any health conditions you may have. Staff from the medical monitoring center will convey the information to emergency response personnel.

How long does it take for the medical monitoring center to answer when I press the help button?

A good service should answer in 45 seconds or less. Some will do it within 25 seconds or less. If it takes longer than a minute, they are under-staffing their medical monitoring center and you should find an alternative.

Medical Alert Systems Equipment

Is a medical alert system easy to set-up? Do I need someone to set it up for me?

Most medical alert system are extremely easy to set-up and are designed to be done yourself. All you have to do is plug the base station into a phone jack and an electrical outlet. Then simply press the emergency button to connect with the medical monitoring center to complete installation - that's it.

How far away can I be from the base station?

The operational range between the base station and the pendant is typically anywhere from 300 feet to 1,300 feet - the length of 4 football fields, depending on the system. We obviously recommend systems with longer ranges.

Will the base station be able to hear me everywhere in my house?

The base station is surprisingly powerful and you should be able to hear and talk through it, from most rooms in your home, depending on construction and home design. That said, if the pendant is pressed in the your home, even if the operator can't hear you, they are then trained to send an ambulance to make sure you're ok.

Can I get a medical alert system if I don't have a landline?

Yes, for sure. You have a choice of getting an in-home medical alert system with a base station that connects to the medical monitoring center via landline or cellular, other than that, there's no difference. You can also choose to get a mobile system with GPS that works outside of your home as well.

Do I need a dedicated landline for the in-home medical alert system?

No, you can use your existing landline, and share the line with your phone. Alternatively, you can get a base station that connects via cellular service - no landline required.

Are medical alert systems water proof? Can I wear it in the shower?

Most medical alert systems are at least water resistant, meaning they can be worn in the shower, bath, swimming pool or while doing the dishes. Some of the newer smart watches are not water resistant and must be taken off before showering. Best to confirm when ordering.

How often do I need to recharge an in-home medical alert system?

The base station plugs in to the wall, so it does not need to be charged. The help button lasts for years. If the battery runs out of juice, most medical alert companies will send you a new pendent free of charge.

How, and how often, should I test my medical alert system?

Most medical alert providers will recommend you press the medical alert help button on your pendant once a month. We recommend once a week, to ensure the battery in your pendant is charged. Just let the monitoring staff know it's a test and all will be fine. Regardless, most companies will also "ping" your system once a week / month to make sure the signal is operational.

What happens if my mother presses the help button by mistake?

The medical monitoring center will be contacted and you will let them know the help button was pressed in error.

How do I wear my help button?

You can wear your help button either around your neck as a pendant or on your wrist as a watch. For all-in one mobile systems, you typically have to wear it around your neck so that the fall detection works properly.

What happens if there is a power outage?

If there is a power outage, your base station will use its back-up battery to remain operational. The back-up battery can typically stay charged for around 30-36 hours, depending on the system.

If I move, or go on vacation, can I bring the medical alert system with me?

Most companies will allow you can bring your medical alert system with you to any location in the United States. You just have to call your provider and let them know of the change of address and/or protocol for the new location.

Will my medical alert system interfere with my pacemaker?

The pendant that comes with most in-home medical alert systems will not interfere with most pacemakers. However, many mobile medical alert systems do emit electromagnetic energy and can interfere with your pacemaker.

What if my medical alert system no longer works?

If your system no longer works, through normal wear and tear, a reputable company will likely replace it. However, if you break the base station or lose your pendant, you will be charged. Some providers do offer an extended warranty plan that covers breakage beyond normal "wear and tear".

How often do I need to recharge a mobile medical alert system?

Depending on the system, mobile medical alerts can typically last 2-5 days on one charge. Like a phone, the GPS and cellular connection eat up battery power fast. Ask your provider how long their mobile system lasts on one charge.

How will emergency responders know where to go if I'm out of the house?

The GPS system embedded in the mobile medical alert device will be able to tell medical monitoring staff where you are to within 5 yards of accuracy. Medical monitoring staff will then communicate your location to the ambulance, police or caregivers.

Can the mobile system work if I'm in an area with no cell phone coverage?

Unfortunately not. It works like a cell phone. If there's no cell service, there's no connection.

How do I know if there's cell phone service in my area before I sign-up for a mobile device?

Many medical alert companies offer an online tool that allows you to put in your zip code and gives you a pretty good idea of the wireless coverage in your area. Just make sure you have a money back guarantee or free cancellation, so you can return the system if you don't get good coverage.

How do I recharge a mobile medical alert pendant, while still wearing it?

It depends on the system. Some will require you to remove the pendant and place the mobile device in a charging cradle. Others, actually allow you to charge it while the mobile pendant is still worn around your neck - although you won't be able to walk around while it's charging.

How accurate is the fall detection system?

The best systems claim to detect 95%+ of falls. However, it depends on the fall detection technology being used and the manufacturer settings. The technology is always battling between accuracy and false alarms e.g. triggering the alarm when you sit down too fast. The technology has gotten better each year.

What happens if the fall detection system sets off a false alarm?

The alarm will usually give you a warning signal that unless you cancel, it will automatically call the medical monitoring center. Even if the medical monitoring center is called, you just have to let them know it was a false alarm and no further action will be taken.

Medical Alert System Cost and Contracts

How much does a medical alert system cost?

Medical alert systems cost anywhere from $19.95 a month for an in-home system to $50 a month for a mobile system. Factors that can make it more or less expensive include equipment costs (many are free) and fall detection (usually around an extra $10 a month).

Are there discounts?

Many medical alert companies offer discounts if you pre-pay your monthly subscription fee quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Just make sure you're able to cancel your contract and get the unused portion of your pre-payment refunded (companies like Medical Guardian will refund you, even if you pre-paid).

Are medical alert systems covered by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance?

Medicare and Medicaid do not cover medical alert systems. Some Long Term Care (LTC) insurance policies cover medical alert systems, you'll have to check with your insurance provider.

Do I get charged for usage e.g. each time I press the help button, even by mistake?

Most companies do not charge for usage (verify before you buy and avoid those that do). So for example, if your loved one presses the help button by mistake, they won't be charged extra.

Can I try the system before I subscribe?

Some companies (e.g. Bay Alarm Medical & LifeFone) offer 30 day money back trial periods. Others offer no contracts and free cancellation, so the most you'll be charged is one month of service.

Do I have to commit to a long term contract?

No. Most medical alert companies offer no long term contracts and free cancellation for any reason. Some even offer 30 day money back trial periods. Watch out for companies (like Life Alert) that sign you up for long term contracts and only allow you to cancel under very specific conditions that require verification.

Can my monthly fees increase after I've subscribed?

Some companies guarantee they won't increase your monthly fee, many call it a price lock guarantee. Not all companies offer it, so make sure to ask before you subscribe.