Medical Alert Services

Medical alert services provide people with more freedom and security, while giving their loved ones (who worry about them) more peace of mind. Because there are many different types of services, with so many companies offering them, it can be difficult to evaluate and choose products and companies who will cover everything you might need. In this report, we review the different kinds of medical alert services, how they might fit into your plans to protect yourself or your loved ones, and where you can find reviews comparing similar service providers.


Introduction

Americans are living longer, are more often divorced, and neither they nor their children spend their entire lives in one place as much as they used to. As a result, more people end up living alone in their advanced years. Challenges seniors face include calling for emergency help when they “have fallen can can’t get up,” communicating important medical and legal information in a crisis, and monitoring vital signs and medications. Challenges their loved ones face are similar – how can they help seniors stay independent for as long as possible?

Over the years, service providers have offered solutions to each of these problems, taking advantage of technological breakthroughs to provide increased service and convenience. A counterpoint to this increased safety and security has been a loss of privacy, especially with the introduction of Internet-enabled personal health monitors. Many seniors have used these services to increase their independence and even postpone the move to community- or assisted-living arrangements.

The medical alert market encompasses several different types of service providers, who:

  • alert emergency response personnel when appropriate,
  • inform emergency response personnel about medical conditions,
  • keep medical history and important documents where medical personnel can access them,
  • coordinate caregivers, care calendars and medications, and
  • monitor health and location

Medical and Legal Notification and Information

One of the first products to serve the medical alert market was the MedicAlert® bracelet, a wearable identification tag engraved with medical conditions or allergies that would alert first responders to important medical conditions. This product went from a local non-profit service in California to a national non-profit 50 years ago, and the MedicAlert® Foundation now has affiliates in nine foreign countries. Their services also expanded from the original silver notification bracelet to the online storage of medical history, advanced directives, and medical powers of attorney. MedicAlert® services now include Kid Smart® for storing children’s medical information and notifying parents in a child’s emergency and (in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association® of America) Safe Return®, a wandering protection and emergency response program for people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

MedicAlert® services include the bracelet, which not only notifies first responders of your allergies or major medical conditions but also informs them that your medical history is available 24/7 by calling their emergency response center. MedicAlert® also notifies your physician if you are being treated so your medical care can be coordinated, allows you to store an electronic emergency health record, and provides a US-based customer support center. Add-On services (recommended) include: electronic storage of medical documents (such as Advance Directives, Medical Durable Powers of Attorney, images, special instructions and more); 24/7 family notification if you have been in a medical emergency; and global service in over 50 countries and translation services to 140 languages. The Kid Smart® and Safe Return® programs mentioned above are also available as additional services.


Emergency Communication Services

“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” That serious line is from the unintentionally campy 1989 television commercial for LifeCall, one of the pioneers in the medical alert market. Medical alert services are an important safety apparatus for people who live alone or who may have mobility issues. They are typically a small, wearable communication device that can make calls for help when, as the commercial says, you have fallen and you cannot get up to make a phone call. The original devices communicated to a central base somewhere in your home that was
connected to a phone line. When you activated the wearable device, a call was made to a customer support center, who could talk to you and also communicate with emergency response personnel.

Advances in technology have increased the capabilities of these devices to include trackable GPS location, integration with cell phones, and fall detection. Competition also made this a crowded space, with dozens of providers offering different takes on the service. The advent of smart phones and apps has only added to the array of options. It is important to know that the emergency communication services were developed when we all had “land lines” and heavy phones that we could not carry around the house with us. For some people, carrying a cell phone will make this technology obsolete.

Below are links to two website reviews of competing medical alert system providers.


Health and Location Monitoring

The newest type of service has been targeted to caregivers. The popularization of wearable health monitors and smart phone apps in the past five years has allowed caregivers (often children living apart from their elderly parents) an array of options to coordinate care and to monitor in real time their parents’ health and activity. Some phone apps will create care calendars and allow you to build a social network of family members who will share the caregiving duties. As the family care manager, you can post caregiving tasks for members of your care
network, such as taking your auntie shopping or your dad to church. When tied to a health monitor, apps will report a fall or an alarm will notify caregivers if someone is not following their normal routine (they have remained stationary during a normally active part of the day for example, which could indicate a fall). I come from a family of extremely independent women who lived well into their 90s, and a motion detection alarm could very well have saved one of my aunties – if we could have convinced her to wear one.

And this is the flip side of wearable devices – privacy. The person you want to monitor may resist wearing a device if they feel their privacy is being invaded. Setting the fall detection rules too tightly can result in unwanted calls whenever mom bends over to take a pie out of the oven, for example, or an unscheduled daytime nap can send a motion detection alarm. Care and planning when introducing these products is highly recommended.

Since there are so many of these new apps and devices, I am including below three different website reviews of the top-rated caregiving apps.


Conclusion

There are dozens of services to help people live independently for longer, but there is a confusing array of service providers, some of which have overlapping functionality (see table below). This article introduces and organizes by functionality some of the many choices in the market. If you are seeking to improve your safety and security, or if you are a caregiver to someone living independently, these resources exist to make your life easier.

If you have (or a loved one has) fallen and cannot get up to make a call, there is a need to:

  • Notify first responders of your plight
  • Communicate your medical history and any allergies or pre-existing conditions that would impact the care you receive from first responders
  • Contact the person(s) who may make medical decisions on your behalf
  • Notify your doctor(s) that you are receiving medical care so they may coordinate with first responders
  • Tell the first responders and your doctors what your advanced medical directives are

I have not found one service that will do all of these things for you, although MedicAlert® does do everything listed above except notify first responders.

Beyond the functions listed above, additional services can assist both the person living alone and her care providers. However, when introducing services that may infringe on a person’s privacy, it is important to consider what is necessary for both the caregivers and the person receiving care.

At MCS, the first question we ask our clients is “What do you want your money to do for you?” Likewise with services that allow people to live more independent lives, you should carefully consider what you want to accomplish before researching who provides those services most efficiently.

 

Medical Alert Services

MedicAlert® Bracelet and Service

Medical Alert Systems

Caregiver Services

Alert Emergency Response
Personnel

No

Yes

No

Inform
Emergency Response Personnel about Medical Conditions

Yes

No

No

Alert Your
Doctors and Loved Ones that You Had a Medical Emergency

Yes

No

No

Store Medical History and Legal
Documents

Yes

No

No

Fall and/or Activity
Monitoring

No

Yes*

Yes*

Coordinate Caregivers, Care
Calendars and Medications

No

No

Yes*

Monitor Health and
Location

No

Yes*

Yes*

* Not all providers offer this service. Check provider to make sure this service is covered.