COVID-19 Update: Since the medical alert industry is considered to be “essential” during the COVID crisis, monitoring and customer service centers are still open and ready to help. To learn more about how a medical alert device can help keep you or your elderly loved one safe and connected during this pandemic, take a look at our list of essential products for seniors during COVID-19.

Medical alert systems, also known as personal emergency response systems or wireless help buttons, are small electronic devices that allow users to call for help without dialing a phone. These systems usually include a wearable help button that’s linked to a landline or cellular phone connection. A pre-programmed number is dialed when the help button is pressed, and callers with a monitored medical alert system are connected to an emergency call center.

Seniors, people with medical issues and those who are concerned for their personal safety can all benefit from the added peace-of-mind that comes with wearing a medical alert device. Most medical alert systems are either sold or leased through a company that also offers 24/7 emergency call monitoring services; however, there are a few non-monitored options available that don’t involve monthly, semiannual or annual medical alert bills.

In this guide we cover what a no monthly fee medical alert system is, who might be interested in this type of help button and the pros and cons of a subscription-free personal emergency response device.

Why Consider a No Monthly Fee Medical Alert System?

Most medical alert systems include two components — the medical alert equipment or hardware and access to a 24/7 call monitoring center that responds when users activate their panic buttons. Monthly monitoring costs for medical alert systems start at around $20, and many companies charge $40 or more per month for around-the-clock emergency call services. Some medical alert providers offer enhanced services such as caregiver apps, GPS location monitoring and medication reminders that can raise the monthly fees to $70 and up.

With prices for a monitored medical alert system starting at a minimum of $240 per year, per subscriber, the cost of a traditional help button system may be prohibitive for those on a fixed income. Others may simply dislike the idea of paying an ongoing fee for call response services that they may never use.

No Monthly Fee Medical Alert System Options

Although the options are limited, there are a few no monthly fee medical alert systems available that can be purchased through medical supply stores, nationwide retailers and online sources. These systems usually include similar hardware as what’s available through a monitored medical alert company, such as a wearable help button, a speakerphone-equipped base unit and additional wall-mounted buttons.

What makes a no monthly fee medical alert system different is the fact that users don’t have access to a professional call monitoring center. Also known as self-monitored medical alerts, these systems will call 9-1-1, one or more user-programmed phone numbers, or custom contacts followed by 9-1-1. This could be a practical solution for users who want to be able to call for help if they suffer from a fall or other emergency but who are reluctant to use a monitored help button over concerns with privacy or cost or who simply want to deal with someone they know personally, such as a neighbor or family member.

Most of the non-monitored medical alert systems available today come with one or more pendant-style call buttons, although there are some watch-style buttons offered as well. The recent emergence of smartwatches, personal emergency help-button apps and features such as heart rate monitoring, GPS location tracking and fall detection have made smartwatches a viable alternative to medical alert devices for some tech-savvy users.

Pros and Cons of No Monthly Fee Personal Emergency Call Buttons

Choosing the best medical alert system for your particular needs and budget means understanding the pros and cons of the various options. To help you decide if a no monthly fee medical alert device is right for you, take the time to consider the following points:

No Monthly Fee System Pros:

  • No ongoing monitoring charges
  • Users can set up their system to phone a neighbor, friend or caregiver when the help button is pressed
  • Many no-fee medical alert systems can accommodate multiple users
  • No credit checks or pre-authorized payments
  • Might be a good option for those who want a help button that only calls a caregiver, neighbor or loved one rather than a monitoring center

No Monthly Fee System Cons:

  • Users do not have access to a 24/7 emergency call response center as they would with a monitored medical alert system
  • Devices with automatic fall detection are rare
  • Most no monthly fee medical alert systems use older technology than is used with monitored systems
  • Users need to maintain their system by monitoring the battery levels in the help buttons and verifying their emergency contact numbers
  • No caregiver apps or GPS location tracking on most no-fee systems
  • Consumers need to purchase their medical alert hardware up-front
  • Most self-monitored help systems cost $200 or more
  • Users must purchase a new medical alert device if they want to upgrade their system
  • Once the warranty expires on a no-fee medical alert device, users are responsible for any repair or replacement costs
  • Insurance providers rarely offer coverage for no monthly fee medical alert systems