It's a good idea to compare your options when choosing a personal emergency response system (PERS) for your parent. Use this checklist as a guide.
When talking to salespeople, take notes on your findings, then narrow down the list of potential providers.
Caution: Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics. The highly competitive market for emergency response systems has unfortunately led to some unscrupulous behavior.
To be extra sure of your choice, check with the Better Business Bureau, your state Attorney General's office, and your local consumer protection agency. These numbers are available online or through directory assistance. The Federal Trade Commission provides PERS information as well.
Key questions to ask:
What's the average response time from the moment the button is pushed until a voice comes on the line?
Most companies track response times, usually measured in seconds, and make this information readily available. If a company hedges about this or doesn't have the data, look elsewhere.
Is there a setup or activation fee?
Some companies charge extra to activate the service or to send a technician to your parent's house to set it up. Because your parent may want a personal setup, it's good to know in advance what this might cost.
What customer support is available?
What are the company's customer support hours if your parent needs help with his system or if the equipment malfunctions?
How is the response center staff trained?
There's no government-regulated PERS staff training or certification requirements, so companies train their staff in a variety of ways. Don't be afraid to press for details.
Is the transmitter (help button) battery life monitored?
What happens when the battery is low? Many companies use technology that remotely tracks battery life. When the battery is low, the company will then automatically ship your parent a new battery or transmitter, sometimes even free of charge. Some companies, however, require the battery to be monitored manually, in the home.
What kind of transmitter comes with the system?
Transmitter design varies from an individual pendant, wristband, or tie clip to interchangeable systems that let you switch from one mode to the other.
Is there a free or money-back testing period for trying out the system?
It's always a good idea to give your parent a chance to try a system out. If it's not working out, for whatever reason, do you get a refund? If not, how much will you be charged for the test run?
Can you get out of a contract if your parent dies or moves out of the service area?
Consider what your financial liability will be if you or your parent signs a long-term PERS contract and your parent passes away or moves to a nursing home.
Are there additional costs?
Does the pricing plan remain constant or does it change over time? Some pricing plans are complex and can involve tiers, which means your parent will pay less if she commits to the service for a longer period of time. This may be an advantage, but it can be confusing. Ask for prices in writing (e-mail is fine).
Ask for the deal of the day or week or month.
As in many competitive industries, PERS companies offer specials and deals. It never hurts to ask.