The 11 Most Important Questions to Ask Before Buying a Medical Alert System

The 11 most important questions to ask before buying a medical alert system

1) Will my mom or dad, or grandparent, wear the medical alert emergency button?

In previous posts, we have discussed how a person’s willingness to wear an emergency help button and use a medical alert system is often contingent on health condition and living situation. 

If your parent has not had a history of falls, is reasonably healthy (1-2 minor chronic conditions) and is not particularly susceptible to illness, she is likely to be less receptive to wearing the emergency help button. She might fight you on the need for the service and opt to use a cell phone that she can use to contact emergency services when she’s outdoors.

In contrast, if your loved one has 3 or more chronic conditions, a history of 1 or more falls, and is widowed and/or lives alone, she is likely to be more receptive to a medical alert system.

Pay attention to your loved one’s care needs.  If she requires assistance with activities of daily living, it is worthwhile to begin the conversation about buying a medical alert system.  For frail seniors, health decline has a cascading effect, where the need for a medical alert system can accelerate quickly.  Be aware of the warning signs and check in with your loved one regularly to determine how receptive she is to getting the medical alert system.

2) Should we get a landline medical alert system, an in-home cellular medical alert system or a mobile GPS medical alert system?

This question is very common and depends on a number of factors. 

See the chart below to evaluate whether your loved one would benefit from an in-home medical alert system or a Mobile GPS medical alert system. 

in-home medical alert system

QMedic’s in-home medical alert systems feature bracelet/pendant range of 1,000 feet to the base station, which provides coverage in the home and typically the front and backyards.

If your loved one leaves the home unsupervised and is generally more active and on the healthier side, a mobile GPS medical alert system or a simple cell phone that is configured to easily connect to emergency services may be more suitable than an in-home medical alert system.

As users become increasingly frail, we highly recommend in-home medical alert systems.   The choice of which in-home medical alert system to select depends on a few factors that you should consider:

  1. If the user has a landline telephone, then the landline medical alert system is a good option. If not, then you will need to purchase a landline service from your telecom provider prior to installing a QMedic or other landline medical alert system.

  2. What is the cellular coverage like in your area? QMedic runs over the AT&T network, while other medical alert systems may use another network like T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint. Check that the cellular coverage of these providers is good in your area before selecting your medical alert system.  Some areas may have good AT&T coverage but poor Verizon coverage, and vice-versa.  If you have universally poor cellular coverage in your area, we recommend purchasing a landline telephone service in conjunction with a landline medical alert system.

  3. Do you or your loved one have a strong preference for where you place the base station? Do you want the base station untethered from a phone line?  If you want flexibility in where you place the base station, we recommend the cellular medical alert system, assuming the cellular coverage in your area is good.  This system can be placed anywhere in the home and simply needs to be plugged into a power outlet (vs. a phone line and power outlet for the landline system).
3)  Should we get a fall detection system? What are the pros and cons?

At QMedic, we do not currently feature fall detection, nor do we endorse any fall detection systems on the market.  QMedic’s team includes MIT scientists who have done extensive work on fall detection and intelligent remote monitoring systems.  The reality is those fall detection systems that are commercially available in the market deliver very poor accuracy and are likely to disappoint both users and caregivers. 

The best fall detection systems still yield high incidences of false positives and, even worse, false negatives.  This inaccuracy not only frustrates users, who will quickly abandon the fall detection system, they also point to the dangers of relying on fall detection systems—namely, they may not detect falls when they happen. 

We believe pressing the emergency help button is still the best method for users to signal that they are in distress.  Although QMedic is conducting R&D on fall detection to develop much more accurate detection systems, these systems are still in development and not available on the market.

As we do not believe in the accuracy of commercially available fall detection systems, we do not see any pros to purchasing such systems and would recommend either an in-home medical alert system with waterproof help button or a Mobile GPS medical alert system.

4) How much do medical alert systems cost? Are there hidden fees or contracts?

QMedic features two subscription plans for in-home medical alert systems.

  • Monthly Plan: $30/month
  • Annual Plan: $300/year

These monthly and annual plans are available whether you select the landline medical alert system or the cellular medical alert system.

For QMedic subscription plans, there are no cancellation fees, hidden fees or contracts.  There is a 30-day money-back guarantee on both subscription plans and after that, you are free to cancel at anytime—just note that if you are unsure how long you will use the system, we recommend selecting the monthly plan as we do not refund the unused portion of the annual plan.  You can change from a monthly to annual subscription at any time after you begin the service.

QMedic also covers free ground shipping both ways when you receive or return the medical alert system.  Expedited 1 or 2-day shipping is billed to you based on where you are located in the US.  You can see these expedited shipping rates during the online checkout process.

Other companies that provide mobile GPS medical alert systems or fall detection systems typically charge $40-80/month for these types of systems. 

When you’re searching and comparing medical alert systems, make sure to ask about hidden fees, activation fees, and contracts prior to purchase.  The best companies will not lock you in and will provide transparent pricing and a simple cancellation process.

5) Who gets called when the emergency help button is pushed?

For the majority of QMedic subscribers, when they press the emergency help button, they will be connected to a 24/7 UL-certified call center—with redundant locations in Utah and Idaho—that is fully equipped to respond and dispatch local emergency services.

For users who would prefer to connect with family/friends/nurses instead of emergency services, QMedic is able to customize routing options:

Option 1:  The call center can follow a “Call Before Dispatch” protocol, calling caregivers from a pre-authorized list prior to dispatching local emergency services.

Option 2: Calls can be routed directly to friends/family/nurses over the base station instead of routing to the call center.

Option 3: With QMedic, caregivers can receive text alert notifications when the button is pressed.  This can be particularly helpful for members with stroke-related aphasia, or similar conditions, who may have trouble communicating verbally with a call center representative.

By default, QMedic subscribers are routed to our 24/7 call center.

With whatever medical alert system you choose, make sure to ask their sales teams this question as the routing may vary by vendor.

6) What’s better for my loved one, the medical alert bracelet (wrist) or the medical alert pendant (neck)?

Both the medical alert bracelet, worn on the wrist, and the neck pendant are effective solutions for giving your loved one 24/7 access to emergency/care management services. 

Both devices are waterproof, can be worn in the shower/bath and provide connectivity during sleep and wake hours. 

We have studied wear patterns closely and the wrist bracelet is the clear winner in terms of compliance, as users are 20% more likely to remove the neck pendant than the wrist bracelet.  Thus, we typically recommend the wrist bracelet if you are concerned about your loved one’s compliance with, and receptivity to, the emergency help button.

Whichever device you select for you or your loved one—wrist bracelet or neck pendant—we recommend wearing 24 hours/day.  The reality is that you never know when you will need help.

7) What happens if my loved one is too far away from the base station and can’t hear the call center?

If a user is out of earshot of the base station and presses the button, she will activate a distress call assuming she is within the device’s normal range. For QMedic, this range is 1,000 feet, which is the best in the medical alert system industry.

If your loved one cannot hear the call center representative because she is hard of hearing or in another room with background noise such as a TV, then she can still call out for help by saying “I need help” once the call connects (typically 30 seconds-1 minute after pressing the button).  QMedic’s microphone is quite sensitive and can pick up the subscriber’s voice even if the subscriber cannot hear the representative. 

If the call center representative is unable to hear the subscriber for any reason, the representative will first call the phone number on file and any “Call Before Dispatch” contacts.  If no one answers, local emergency or other care services will be dispatched to ensure that your loved one is safe and responsive.  Ultimately, it is better to be safe than sorry and this is a time-tested protocol that is endorsed throughout the medical alert system industry.

8) How often do you recommend testing the device?

We recommend testing your wrist bracelet or neck pendant once per month by activating the help button from a reasonable range—in a room apart from the bases station, or the front or backyard.  Just tell the call center representative that you are testing when they come over the base station and they will confirm your name/address details and reset the device.

You can test as frequently as you like.  We want to make sure your medical alert system gives you the peace of mind you need.

QMedic is also able to self-test the system remotely to ensure it’s always working.  This is unique among medical alert systems, as most other systems require users to press the help button in order to confirm their systems are working.

QMedic encourages you to test frequently but is also monitoring system uptime remotely.

9)  What happens if I get the unit and decide I don’t want it?

QMedic provides a 30-day money-back guarantee.  Whichever medical alert system you choose, we believe this is the right way to do business.  Make sure that the vendors you review are upfront about their Returns and Refund policies. 

After the 30-day period, you can cancel QMedic at anytime and will not owe any future billing or cancellation fees.  If you are unsure of how long you intend to use the system, we recommend selecting a monthly subscription vs. annual subscription, as QMedic does not offer refunds beyond the 30-day guarantee period.

10) Are medical alert systems designed by the companies selling them or are the companies reselling medical alert systems?

QMedic is one of the only medical alert systems where the company both designs and sells its own wearable bracelets, neck pendants and base station hardware.  We do this because we can vouch for the quality, safety and reliability of our medical alert systems.

Most of the other companies in the medical alert system industry resell systems from 2 manufacturers: Nortek and MyTrex.  The various resellers that work with these 2 manufacturers suffer because they are unable to provide strong technical and customer support as they don’t make the devices or understand their technical strengths and weaknesses.  The other important thing to note is most other companies are selling similar hardware to each other. 

The only difference in most of those other systems is branding, not function or performance.

In contrast, QMedic knows the ins and outs of our systems and can self-test and diagnose problems proactively to ensure that your loved one is always connected and safe.

Always ask if the company you’re evaluating designed the hardware or if they simply resell it.

11) What other criteria should I use to evaluate medical alert systems?

At QMedic, we believe customer service and responsiveness is far and away the most important thing to consider.  In evaluating vendors, you should weigh the following:

  1. How pushy were the sales reps?
  2. Did they answer my questions completely without pressuring me to buy?
  3. Do they provide multiple modes of reaching customer support (e.g. toll-free telephone #, email, live chat, etc)?
  4. How professional is the call center staff when I test the system? Will they be responsive to my or my loved one’s needs in case of an emergency?

There are many more questions that you can ask but we believe the ones captured above will give you a deep understanding prior to purchasing a medical alert system.  Whether you choose QMedic or an alternative, we wish you and your family the best.  You are making an important decision and our goal is to provide you with the best information you need to make that decision.