How do medical alert systems work?

Dashia Starr
Updated May 17, 2021
3 min read
Medical alerts use a one-press button or voice command to get you help when you need it most.

Medical alerts are wearables or hardware installed in your home to call for help when you need it most — quickly. But how do they work? The short answer is that it depends. Each medical alert comes with different features geared toward your health concerns and needs. 

There are many providers, features and costs to consider. We’ve narrowed down how medical alerts work and what you need to know about the devices before you start shopping. 

Wearable Medical Alerts

Wearable medical alerts are necklaces or bracelets designed to call for help using a one-press button. They’re most popular for active older adults, especially those who still do a lot independently, including errands, exercise or travel. 

Medical Guardian has a smartwatch-like medical alert with top features including two-way audio, cellular connectivity and GPS tracking. It’s one of the many medical alert device companies thinking outside of the box to give older adults comfortable, easy-to-use safety equipment. When shopping for a medical alert, here’s what you should keep in mind to make sure you’re getting the most out of your device: 

  • Cellular connectivity: Most wearable devices have cellular connectivity to alert the monitoring center if you need help without requiring a landline.
  • GPS tracking: Many devices also come with GPS to help specialists spot your location if you’re not home. 
  • Fall detection: You can add fall detection to alert specialists if you’ve fallen. The device will send an alert automatically upon detection, but this feature often costs extra. 
  • Battery-powered: Wearables are often battery-powered. You should receive an alert on your device to let you know when your device needs recharging. 
  • Two-way audio: The best wearable medical alerts also have a built-in speaker and microphone to talk to monitoring specialists hands-free. 

In short, you should be able to press one button or say a voice command to get immediate assistance from your provider’s monitoring center, no matter where you are. Other features will help you call for help faster and easier, especially if you’re alone.

In-Home Medical Alerts

In-home medical alerts work a little differently. These systems are great for older adults who spend more time at home. Like Get Safe or Bay Alarm, medical alert systems require cellular or landline connectivity to stay in touch with your system’s monitoring specialist. Here’s what’s usually included in a medical alert in-home system: 

  • Base unit: The hub of your medical alert. It can be battery-powered or plugged into a wall outlet. Some have two-way audio to make it easier to talk to the monitoring specialist.
  • Panic button: You’ll want to keep this battery-powered, wireless remote around to call for help. You need to be within your base unit’s required range for your emergency button to work.
  • Wall button: Another way to call for help throughout your home. You can install buttons in the bathroom or kitchen, where more accidents are likely to happen. 

Keep in mind that you may need help installing your equipment securely. You’ll also want to make sure your medical alert equipment still works during power outages. Usually, medical alerts come with a backup battery to keep you connected to monitoring centers.

Other Medical Alert Features

Aside from fall detection and GPS tracking, a few other medical alert features improve older adult safety and peace of mind. 

Mobile app: One of the latest medical alert features is a mobile app. Your medical alert provider may offer an app for loved ones to communicate with caregivers, track appointments and medications, and see alerts on a smartphone or tablet. 

Environmental monitoring: Some medical alert providers also offer environmental monitoring to alert you of smoke, fire or carbon monoxide dangers in your home. Your medical alert monitoring specialists can dispatch for help on your behalf. 

Water-resistant: Most accidents are water-prone. Slips and falls in the shower, bath or kitchen can mean severe injuries for older adults. The best medical alerts will still work when submerged in water, so you never have to worry about the device failing in an emergency.

Picking the Right Medical Alert

There are many medical alert providers, features and equipment options to choose from. The most important factor is knowing how to work your equipment to feel safe and have peace of mind. Choose the features and equipment that you feel most confident using. Your medical alert should make it easy to call for help when you need it most. And remember that your medical alert provider can help you set-up your device and show you how to use it. Most importantly, if your system isn’t working correctly, you’ll have a warranty to replace or repair any equipment. 

If you’re having trouble deciding what’s best for you or a loved one, consult with your doctor to discuss the best option based on your health concerns. 

Additional Resources

Home Security Writer

Dashia Starr

Dashia researches and writes on all things home automation and security. She focuses on the latest news, products, and providers to share only the best with you.

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