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 monitoring involves the use of an electronic system to connect a person who requires medical assistance with emergency services. This technology can offer peace of mind to individuals who live alone and have medical concerns or a high risk of falling.

Before choosing the best system for your lifestyle, it’s important to understand how medical alert monitoring works. This guide explores the ins and outs of medical alert monitoring to help consumers determine if this technology is appropriate for their needs.

What Are the Basic Components of a Medical Alert Monitoring System?

Medical alert monitoring systems require two basic components to function:

The Console

This is the unit’s base system, which functions as a two-way communication device using a standard telephone line or cellular plan to connect to a central monitoring station. The console generally includes an emergency call button, which sends an alert to the monitoring station, where it’s received by an operator who can assess the situation and dispatch emergency services. This alert may also be initiated by a transmitter that’s worn by the user, commonly in the form of a pendant, bracelet or watch.

Once an alert has been triggered, the console’s speakerphone enables voice communication between the user and an operator at the monitoring station. A high-tech microphone on the console can transmit a user’s voice, even if the user isn’t close to the console.

The Remote Monitoring Station

The remote monitoring station is a call center that receives alerts sent from the console. Care specialists at the station communicate with the medical alert user, assess the situation and dispatch emergency services, medical personnel or a nearby family member. Most remote monitoring stations are open 24 hours a day, including holidays.

How Do Wearable Transmitters Work?

Medical alert monitoring systems may come with wearable wristband or pendant transmitters that allow users to call for help without needing to reach the main console. These battery-powered devices are designed to be small, comfortable enough for everyday use and waterproof, so they can be worn while bathing.

In an emergency situation, the user presses a button on the transmitter, which sends a coded wireless signal to the console, triggering it to send an alert to the remote monitoring station. The user can then communicate with a specialist at the monitoring station via two-way communication through the console’s speakerphone, which includes a highly sensitive microphone that’s designed to pick up voices, even from a distance. The specialist can then dispatch emergency services or contact a predetermined family member to provide assistance.

It’s a good idea to test the functional range of your wearable transmitters because many devices can function on a deck or in a backyard.

Do Medical Alert Monitoring Systems Require a Subscription?

Yes. Medical alert monitoring systems require a monthly subscription fee, which gives the user access to care specialists at a remote monitoring station. These operators can dispatch emergency services or contact medical personnel and designated family members.

Mobile systems that incorporate GPS tracking and systems that have fall-detection features typically incur additional monthly subscription costs.

Do Home-Based and Mobile Systems Work Differently?

Yes. Although both systems use a simple call-button design to connect users with an operator, there are differences in how they work. Home-based medical alert monitoring systems work inside a home or in the direct vicinity. They communicate with a remote monitoring station using a traditional landline or a cellular connection.

Mobile systems are designed to be used anywhere and operate exclusively over cellular networks. These portable units use GPS technology to locate users who may be lost or unable to speak.

How Does a Fall-Detection Feature Work?

Some medical alert monitoring systems include a fall-detection feature, which places a call for help if it senses that a user has fallen. Automatic fall detection is typically built into a pendant transmitter, which may be worn around the neck or waist.

This technology uses integrated detection sensors, such as accelerometers, to distinguish between normal activity and a fall by sensing the user’s position and processing the speed and smoothness of their movements. It can potentially detect a fall of fewer than two feet.

Depending on the brand, some base units will verbally announce the alert, giving users time to cancel the communication if help isn’t needed. Although false alarms are possible, they aren’t common.

What Other Optional Features Are Available and How Do They Work?

Medical alert monitoring systems may also come with the following additional features to provide additional functionality for individuals with specific medical concerns.

Activity Monitoring

Some medical alert systems come with an activity monitoring feature designed to let family members know the user is moving around each day. Models with this feature typically perform a check-in with the user twice daily. This may be done by verbally reminding the user to press a notification button or automatically, through the use of door contacts and strategically placed motion sensors that can keep track of a user’s movements.

Medication reminders

Medical alert monitoring systems may come with a medication reminder option that issues an alert to the user that it’s time to take prescription medication. Users can program the unit to issue the reminder at predetermined times.

Are There Different Types of Medical Alert Monitoring Systems?

More specialized alert systems are available to monitor the health status of a user through blood pressure, ECG, blood sugar and weight fluctuations.

Consumers can also purchase unmonitored systems, which are designed to alert designated contacts in the event of a fall or medical emergency.

Do All Medical Alert Monitoring Systems Work the Same Way?

Although many medical alert monitoring systems employ similar techniques to connect users to emergency medical assistance, it’s always best to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines prior to use. Consumers who are looking to purchase the best medical alert monitoring system for their individual needs should research different models and features prior to making a purchase.