Guide to Medical Alert Systems

Guide to Medical Alert Systems

What are personal emergency response systems?

Personal emergency response systems (PERS) are devices that provide an individual with an accessible way to call for help in an emergency situation, even if they are unable to speak or dial for an ambulance. They are intended to allow people of older age, medical complications or disabilities to live alone but still have access to rapid emergency support.

These devices can range from single units that are worn on the body to an array of products that can monitor an individual in several ways to ensure that help can be called no matter what the situation is.

These products often go by many names, such as: pagers, fall monitors, medical alerts, personal emergency response systems, wellbeing monitors, emergency alerts, panic buttons and many others. Service providers will often simply refer to the products by brand name. 

How do PERS work?

When activated, a PERS typically sends an alert to emergency responders, but some devices can also be programmed to send messages to other recipients such as family, friends or caregivers. These messages can be sent through calls, text messages, emails or apps so that multiple people are alerted of the situation as well as the current status of the imperiled individual, so long as the installed systems monitor that level of detail.

Examples of how PERS can function:

  • Alert button: A simple button that, when pressed, sends an alert to an emergency responder. These are meant to be easily accessed during an emergency, even if the person is unable to speak. These can be pendants worn on the body, applications installed on the phone or watches with buttons.
  • Location tracker: A device that keeps track of where an individual is. While these are typically utilized by caregivers to alert when a dementia patient is wandering, some PERS service providers offer devices that can tell if an individual has fallen or has remained on the ground for an extended period, then send an alert. These can include watches with built-in GPS tracking, motion detectors installed around the house or pressure sensor mats in areas of high fall risk.

  • Vitals monitors: Devices typically worn on the body that analyze the wearer’s vitals. If any health irregularities or emergencies occur, such as a stroke or heart attack, the device can send an alert to emergency responders as well as the details of the emergency. 
  • Communication system: When an emergency occurs, basic devices only alert emergency responders. More advanced systems can allow two-way communication between the imperiled person and the dispatch responder, as well as alerting others programmed into the alert system to receive updates on the situation. This can allow for rapid response even if the individual is unable to move or speak.

Can Medicaid pay for PERS?

Most states have Medicaid programs that can potentially fund PERS services, sometimes only with a doctor’s recommendation. However, every state has its own rules for the program that can lead to different funding availability depending on your situation. For instance, some states have Medicaid waivers that only pay for PERS if the individual is disabled, while others only provide funding if the individual is “elderly” (each state has their own age guidelines, usually 60 or higher.) Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Services waivers is one of the more common methods of funding the basic level PERS services or other technology services that assist living.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking with your local Area Agency on Aging to discover what systems are available in your area.

Medicaid funding for assistive technology can range from $20 to $75 a month, though this will vary by state and situation. 

What are the best PERS providers?

Services can greatly differ depending on the provider and the needs of the individual. Finding the best suit for your situation can be difficult, but the best service providers are highly rated for either affordability or versatility in the offered packages.

Here are some highly rated medical alert providers:

MobileHelp website

  • MobileHelp: Offers a wide variety of products for both in-home and mobile emergency protection. Devices can be connected through landlines or cellularly. Some products are waterproof and have battery lives of up to 30 hours. MobileHelp is highly rated for cost transparency, no hidden fees or long-term contract requirements. They also offer free shipping.

    Cost: Starts at $19.95 / month with their classic plan.

MedicalAlert website

  • MedicalAlert: Offers simple to use at-home and on-the-go options, as well as fall detection. The selection is smaller but more focused and have affordable annual contracts that offer free shipping and lockboxes. Standard device is a pendant worn around the neck with a button that connects to a call unit.

    Cost: Starts at $22.95 / month, or $19.95 / month with their annual plan.

QMedic website

  • QMedic: Only offers two systems to keep things simple, but offers a lot with those systems. While fall detection isn’t part of the package, the call station has a two-way communication system, health pattern monitoring, a waterproof wrist-watch and many more useful functions to provide ease of mind.

    Cost: Starts at $25 / month, only offered through annual plans.

Bay Alarm Medical website

  • Bay Alarm Medical: Consistently rated highly as a medical alert provider, Bay Alarm Medical offers a wide variety of gadgets that can be utilized for maximum emergency security in the household, including wall-mounted panic buttons that can even be placed in the shower. They offer 24-hour medical response services and have been in the business for over 70 years.

    Cost: Starts at $21.95 / month

Medical Guardian website

  • Medical Guardian: With a focus on allowing in-home living to be as active as possible, Medical Guardian delivers with good battery life and signal range to protect against fall emergencies as much as possible. The gadget variety is simple to make choices easier on the consumer.

    Cost: Starts at $29.95 / month